Have fun in the sun and keep your skin safe from harmful UV rays with these 3 tips

**By Natalie Moriarty, MD**

Whether it’s summer or not, every day you are outside is a good day to protect your skin. It might be surprising, but you can still get a sunburn when it’s cloudy outside. Ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) comes from the sun and causes sunburns, and worse, skin cancer.

Damage from UV rays is cumulative, which is why it is important to wear sunscreen even on a cloudy day. While skin eventually recovers from a sunburn you might get over the summer, some damage will remain. This can lead to wrinkles, age spots, rough skin texture and eventually, skin cancer.

The good news is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tracks the level of UV rays by city. Each day, a number between 0-15 is assigned reflecting the strength of the UV rays throughout the day. The lower the number, the less risk. As you might expect, UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months, as well as between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Read on below for some quick tips, so you can enjoy the weather, steer clear of harmful rays and stay safe this summer and beyond!

Know your skin type

Those at higher risk of skin cancer tend to have lighter eyes and pale skin, many moles or a family history of skin cancer. These individuals should be extra careful with sun exposure, avoid sunbathing and stay on top of regular visits with their dermatologist. It’s also a good idea to monitor your own skin monthly for new skin moles, bumps, scaly spots or places where your skin has changed color. Call your doctor if you notice any of these changes.

Skin cancer is much easier to treat when it is caught early, so get to know your skin, actively watch for changes and check in with a dermatologist routinely.

Use sunscreen appropriately

Every sunscreen is assigned a sun protection factor (SPF), which rates how well it blocks UV rays. In general, you should use a product with SPF 30 or higher, with the words “broad-spectrum” on it. Higher numbers indicate more protection, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen will block both UVA and UVB sun rays (both are harmful). When possible, look for a sunscreen containing zinc or titanium, and choose lotions over sprays. 

If you are around water, snow, at elevation or just prone to sunburns, consider a sunscreen with an SPF 50 or higher.

Remember to reapply often! The protection from sunscreen wears off in about 90 minutes, or faster if you are swimming or sweating.

Practice sun-protective behaviors

Even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays can still get through. Because of this, sunscreen is only one part of sun protection. The other important sun protective behaviors are seeking shade and covering up with sun-protective clothing.  

In fact, when the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., try to avoid direct exposure altogether. During this time, everyone is at risk for skin damage. If you can’t stay in the shade, be sure to wear a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin. Choose a pair of sunglasses with a UV400 rating or “100% UV protection” on the label, as these sunglasses block more than 99% of UVA and UVB radiation.

So, the next time you are outside, will you think about protecting your skin? We hope so!


Natalie Moriarty, MD is board-certified in dermatology and currently practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center. She specializes in detection and treatment of skin cancer, eczema, psoriasis, infections of the skin, pediatric dermatology and preventative and restorative cosmetic treatments.

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