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Protecting Your Skin in the Sun

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Protecting Your Skin in the Sun

July 27, 2011

Written for Scars1 by Allison Walker-Elders

The air is warm, the sun is out, and you can’t stay cooped up indoors any longer.  Why should you?  It’s summertime, and you should be out hiking, swimming, running, or doing whatever else gets your blood pumping.  But before you hit the beach or the trail, remember to take care of yourself from the outside in by protecting your skin.

Your skin is your largest organ.  Although it is only around an eighth of an inch thick, it accounts for approximately 10% of your body mass.  In short, it’s a big part of your body.  Its job is big, too—it protects your more vulnerable organs from your environment.  But the greatest danger to skin comes in an intangible form: UV rays.

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Quick Tips for Sun Protection               
                        
  • Wear light protective clothing                       
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher                       
  • Use a moisturizer (with SPF)           
  • Drink lots of water                       
  • Ultraviolet rays are a form of radiation just outside the visible spectrum.  UV light is a component of sunlight, as well as the light from tanning beds.  Extended exposure to UVA and UVB rays damages skin by causing mutations in the DNA.  This can lead to skin cancer, an often fatal disease.  Melanoma, although a less common form of skin cancer, accounts for approximately 75% of the 65,000 skin cancer-related deaths that occur worldwide, annually.

     The skin is not entirely defenseless to UV rays.  By producing a brown pigment called melanin, the outer layer of skin (called the epidermis) reduces the amount of radiation absorbed.  This causes skin to turn tan in the sun.  However, this protection is limited.  The skin still absorbs radiation.  When overexposed, the skin turns red with sunburn, a symptom correlated with an elevated risk of skin cancer.

    There are a number of measures you can take to protect your skin from UV rays.  The most obvious of these is to wear sunscreen.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunblock with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 year-round.  UV rays can penetrate the glass of windowpanes.  It’s best to apply sunscreen at the beginning of the day, especially taking care of the face.  Some moisturizers contain appropriate UV protection.  For an extra defense, seek a sunscreen with zinc.

    Other measures should be taken to keep your skin safe.  Clothing is especially important.  Even if you are head to toe in sunscreen, wear clothes that minimize exposure.  Light, airy blouses or loose-fitted pants will keep you cool and protect your skin.  A hat is also a good idea, as it guards your scalp as well as your face.  Additionally, liberal use of moisturizers keeps your skin supple and healthy, so your epidermis can do its part.

    Taking the necessary precautions against skin damage seems daunting.  Many people recognize that they tan easily and burn infrequently, so they assume that the sun does not harm them.  Unfortunately, any amount of UV exposure is destructive and can lead to damage.  By following a simple routine and staying vigilant with protection, you can still have fun in the sun.  Enjoy the summer weather!

    Photo: George Ruiz

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