This Labor Day, whether you’re working, gardening, exercising, or just enjoying the outdoors with friends and family, you need to protect your skin from sun damage. Labor Day honors the people across the country who work every day. Those whose work requires them to be outdoors often receive a lot of sun exposure and may not even notice how much. Daily exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can be damaging to the skin. And prolonged, daily exposure can mean serious risk for skin health concerns. So, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself. In this blog, we walk through the top ten tips for protecting your skin during prolonged sun exposure.
1 – Apply Sunscreen DAILY
Sunscreen should be part of your everyday skincare routine. We really can’t emphasize this enough. A good, broad-spectrum (protects from UVA and UVB rays) product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater should be applied daily to your face, neck, hands, and other parts of the body that will receive sun exposure. If you’re going to be out in the sun for extended periods of time, you need to take some extra steps to ensure your sunscreen is providing adequate coverage, including:
- Apply a liberal amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen over all areas that may receive sun exposure. Several ounces of sunscreen may be necessary for adequate coverage.
- Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater. For a full day in the sun, consider increasing that to SPF 50.
- Reapply at least every two hours.
- Check the expiration dates on sunscreen. If you’ve had the same bottle of sunscreen sitting in your cabinet for years, it’s likely outdated. The efficacy of sunscreen diminishes after the active sun-blocking ingredients are expired.
2 – Wear the Right Gear
According to dermatologist Dr. Howard Rubin, of Rubin Dermatology in Dallas, Texas, wearing the right protective clothing and gear while spending long periods of time outdoors is essential. Dr. Rubin said, “Even though it’s likely to be hot outdoors during the summertime, wearing long sleeves and pants dramatically reduces the amount of skin exposed to the sun’s damaging rays. Choose light layers of reflective fabric to protect your skin. Hats and gloves can also go a long way toward cutting down on sun exposure. The nape of the neck is one area that many people don’t think about, but if you’re bending or stretching while outdoors, you are likely exposing this area frequently. Wear a hat with a flap or collared shirt to keep the nape of your neck covered.”
3 – Protect Your Eyes
Many people forget to protect their eyes from sun exposure, but actually, the eyes are at risk for a serious form of cancer, ocular melanoma. Like melanoma of the skin, this aggressive form of cancer has serious associated health risks. In order to protect your eyes, be sure to wear sunglasses or wide-brimmed hats when you’re outdoors.
4 – Always be Aware of Reflective Surfaces
Direct exposure to the sun’s rays is the most obvious way that your skin can be damaged by UV rays, but what many people don’t know is that reflective surfaces can increase the intensity of the sun’s rays. When you’re outdoors for long periods of time, make sure you’re aware of the way that bodies of water, snow, sandy beaches, pavement, and buildings with numerous windows can increase your sun exposure.
5 – Know Medications & Medical Conditions that Increase Photosensitivity
According to Dr. Rubin, “Medication is one of the things I always review with my patients who spend a lot of time outdoors. Most people don’t know that there are numerous prescriptions and over the counter medicines that can significantly increase photosensitivity. This increases the risk of sun damage, so these people need to take special measures to protect their skin.” In most cases, your physician will warn you against prolonged sun exposure if you’re taking any of the following common medications:
- Anti-inflammatories (including over the counter medications like ibuprofen)
- Blood pressure medications and blood thinners
In addition to taking these medications orally, topically applied medications can also increase skin sensitivity to the sun. Those who are receiving treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, or laser hair removal, will also experience increased photosensitivity. If any of this applies to you, make sure you are minimizing your sun exposure, using sunscreen daily, and seeking treatment anytime you notice areas of concern.
6 – Don’t “Base Tan”
At some point, the idea of the “base tan” gained popularity, and many people still think it’s an effective way of getting a tan without damaging the skin. This belief is that one initial deep tan or burn that turns into a tan early in the summer will protect the skin from sun exposure through the rest of the summer. This is simply not the case.
Even people with tan skin or naturally darker pigmentation can experience damage from the sun. And, no matter how tanned or pigmented your skin, sun exposure still puts you at risk for skin cancer, increases the appearance of wrinkles, and can lead to other damage. Getting a base tan through natural sun exposure or in a tanning bed will not protect your skin from further damage. In fact, the time you’re exposed to UV rays to achieve a base tan can lead to lasting damage.
7 – Take Shade Breaks
If you’re out in the sun for work or play, you need to take some time away from the sun every hour. Even if it’s just a few minutes under an umbrella or awning, it can really help to give your skin and whole body a break from the damaging direct rays. A minute or two in the shade to reapply your sunscreen and drink some water can help you avoid skin damage and stay healthier and more energized.
8 – When Possible, Avoid Working at Peak Sun Exposure Hours
One of the easiest ways to avoid the sun’s damage is to stay out of the sun during the peak hours between 10 am and 4 pm. This can significantly reduce your risk of damaging exposure. If you do need to work outdoors during these peak sun exposure hours, make sure to take plenty of shade breaks. Workers are at a greater risk of skin damage during these peak hours, but since this is also typically the hottest time of the day, workers are also at elevated risk for overheating and dehydration.
9 – Stay Hydrated
Your skin is actually the body’s largest organ. Like all of your other organs, the skin is made up of a number of cells that are dependent on water to remain healthy. Without adequate hydration, your skin cells will not function properly, leaving them at greater risk for sunburn and making healing after a burn more difficult. Well-hydrated skin cells are much more resilient, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to ensure your body is hydrated from the inside out. You should also moisturize your skin every day. One of the best ways to ensure your skin is moisturized is to apply a hydrating cream or lotion a few minutes after you bathe or shower.
10 – Talk to a Dermatologist Right Away if You Notice Changes to Skin Health
Whether you’ve been out in the sun having fun or working, you should check your skin regularly for changes that can indicate health concerns. New or growing moles, areas of darker pigmentation, and other changes to your skin’s appearance can all indicate a need for a trip to the dermatologist. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we are happy to provide a range of services to help prevent and heal skin conditions and preserve your skin’s health. To get started at a U.S. Dermatology Partners location near you, complete our simple online form. One of our local specialists will be in touch soon.
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