Safety in the Sun

Story by Lissette Minges, TSET Healthy Living Program Specialist

As summer approaches, everyone is gearing up for a beach vacation, time at the pool, or visiting local water parks and venues. So much planning can go into these events as far as what to pack in the pool bag or what to take to the beach. Often those items are swimsuits, toys, goggles, and maybe a snorkel or two. Never leave home without your sunscreen on these adventures.

When outside and around water there are so many safety concerns to think about. The easiest to address is applying sunscreen on everyone to prevent any kind of skin damage, disease, and potential cancers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, anyone over the age of six months should be using sunscreen daily to reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation. It is thought that this would be a good idea even for those individuals who work close to windows where they would be exposed to sunlight, and potential UVA rays. If a child is under the age of six months, it is recommended to keep them out of direct sunlight because their skin is still too fragile to be exposed.

The difference between UVA and UVB rays have much to do with how far the exposure penetrates your skin in the sunlight. UVA rays tend to penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays and play a larger role in skin aging and wrinkling. Scientists recently discovered that UVA rays are more responsible for skin cancers. UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and we now know that tanning, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes cumulative damage over time.

A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. “These imperfections, or mutations, can lead to skin cancer,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This alone is why it is vital to remember to take care of your skin whether outdoors or in a salon.

Not to be misunderstood, UVB rays can be equally damaging to unprotected skin. UVB rays tend “to damage the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer and a contributory role in tanning and photoaging. The most significant amount of UVB hits the U.S. between 10 AM and 4 PM from April to October” (Skin Cancer Foundation, September 2017). Because most of our summer and outdoor activities in Oklahoma are in that exact time frame, using sunscreen should always be a priority!

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are several myths regarding the use of sunscreen, which can prevent many people from using sunscreen. One of these myths is that sunscreen causes a deficiency in Vitamin D because it is prohibiting your body’s absorption. This claim has been studied and research has shown this is not the case. If there is a concern about vitamin deficiency, there are other ways that a person can supplement their Vitamin D, such as through diet.

Another great myth affecting many people in adulthood is that because most of their sun exposure happened as a child, now it is too late to begin to do anything about it. “A recent multi-center study showed we get less than 25 percent of our total sun exposure by age 18. In fact, it is men over the age of 40 who spend the most time outdoors and get the highest annual doses of UV rays” (Skin Cancer Foundation, May 2012). Americans now are living longer and spending more time enjoying outdoor activities, which is why prevention of ongoing skin damage is just as important an aspect of living a healthy lifestyle as nutrition and exercise.

When picking out a sunscreen, it is important to look at the SPF number. SPF only indicates your protection from sunburn from UVB rays; and not all sunscreen protects you from UVA rays as well. For regular daily use of sunscreen, choose a broad spectrum sunscreen. Always begin with a SPF 15 or higher to effectively protect your skin from both types of ultraviolet radiation. If children are enjoying the outdoors with their family, it is always safest to use the highest SPF you can find in order to protect their skin as it is younger and more fragile.

The biggest challenge when using sunscreen the correct way is to remember to reapply. For extended periods of time outdoors, reapply your sunscreen every 60-80 minutes for ongoing protection from UV rays.

Developing good habits of sunscreen use is a great thing to start at any age and can protect from future skin damaging or disease. While you are out having fun in the sun this summer whether at the pool, beach, or outdoor waterpark, always pack your sunscreen!

For more information regarding accurate sunscreen choices for your family and concerns about skin damage and prevention, visit