Protect Your Skin and Be Safe in the Sun

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Spending time outdoors is a great way to be physically active, reduce stress, and get vitamin D. And it’s especially nice to be out and about on Vancouver Island where we have so many beautiful places to go. But it’s important to keep sun safety in mind, as huge potential health risks are involved. Here we’ll take a look at how to protect your skin from the sun so you can have an enjoyable summer.

Sun Damage Risks

Just being outside, even on a cloudy day, exposes people to the sun, which is always emitting ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much sun exposure means UV rays will reach your inner skin layers, and this has risks.

Too much sun exposure can cause:

  • Skin changes. 
    Some skin cells with melanin can form a clump, which creates freckles and moles. Over time, these can develop cancer.
  • Early aging. 
    Time spent in the sun makes your skin age faster than normal. Signs of this are wrinkled, tight or leathery skin, and dark spots.
  • Lowered immune system. 
    White blood cells work to protect your body. When your skin gets burnt, white blood cells help create new cells. Doing this can put your immune system at risk in other areas.
  • Eye injuries.
    UV rays can damage the tissue in your eyes by burning your cornea. They also can blur your vision and over time, you can develop cataracts.
  • Skin cancer.
    Most skin cancer is not melanoma. It is very common, but also very treatable. Melanoma skin cancer is not as common but is more severe. Skin cancer can spread to other areas in your body, especially if left untreated.

Luckily there are ways to protect yourself from the sun.

Understanding SPF and Use Sunscreen

Using sunscreen is a crucial part of sun protection. But with so much choice, which is right for you? First let’s understand what SPF is. SPF means sun protection factor and contrary to popular belief it is not related to time of solar exposure, but rather to the amount of solar exposure. Meaning typically one hour of sun exposure at 9am is equivalent to just 15 minutes of sun exposure at 12pm, as the solar energy at midday is much stronger than in the morning.

So the SPF numbers on sunscreen bottles don’t mean the amount of time you can spend in the sun, but relay the amount of UVB protection it gives. An SPF 15 protects against 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 fends off 97% of UVB rays, and SPF 50 fends off 99% of UVB rays. It is recommended that to use a sunscreen with a minimum factor of SPF 15, and it should be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure to ensure your skin is protected. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, more frequently if you’ve been in the water as while some are ‘water resistant’, no sunscreen is going to completely stay on through being in water.

Sun Safety Practices for Outdoor Activities

When outdoors you can reduce your risk of skin cancer and sun damage by just limiting the amount of sun on you. This means being in the shade wherever possible, and wear clothing that will physically cover you, such as long pants, long sleeved shirts, or a long skirt.

Wearing a hat is one of the best ways to protect your face, as long as it has a brim that goes all the way around, shading your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric works best to protect against UV rays, so avoid straw hat types that have lots of holes which let sunlight through. And don’t forget the sunglasses as they not only protect your eyes from UV rays, but also the skin around your eyes that can be tricky to cover with sunscreen.

What to do With a Sunburn

You’ll know you have a sunburn if your skin is hot to touch, feels sore, and flakes or peels, though this usually happens a few days after the sun exposure. If you get sunburnt, don’t panic and treat the affected area as soon as possible.

Apply cool water to the sunburn with a sponge or light cloth and apply a soothing aftersun cream or spray, ideally find one that has aloe vera. If the area is very painful, taking some painkillers can help reduce the inflammation.

It is important to stay out of the sun completely until all signs of redness have gone, so make sure to cover up well when going out for at least a week after being burnt. Seek medical help if you feel unwell or the skin swells or blisters.

  • Do not use petroleum jelly on sunburnt skin
  • Do not put ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin
  • Do not pop any blisters
  • Do not scratch or try to remove peeling skin
  • Do not wear tight-fitting clothes over sunburnt skin

It’s important to note that the sun is not just a risk factor during the summer, UV rays still come through the clouds every day, which is why it is important to always wear sunscreen and stay protected throughout the year. Sun damage poses risks and should be taken seriously, so if you have any concerns or issues seek medical attention. But don’t let the sun stop you from enjoying the great outdoors of Vancouver Island. As long as you are prepared and vigilant, being in the sun is a valuable activity that all can enjoy.