Although it doesn’t feel like it yet, fall has arrived! Temperatures will eventually start to fall, but that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down when it comes to sun safety. Fall in the Sunshine State often means spending even more time outdoors—at farmer’s markets, festivals and sporting events—rather than hiding in the AC. Do your skin a favor, and follow these tips to be sun smart year-round.
Overexposure can lead to painful sunburn or sickening sun poisoning and can increase your risk of skin damage—or worse, your risk of developing skin cancer. (One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.) That’s why protecting yourself from getting too much sun should be a priority when you head outside for your dose of Vitamin D.
Here are some sun-safety tips to help ensure that your fun in the sun doesn’t land you at an urgent care center, seeking relief from serious sunburn, sun poisoning or heat stroke.
Protect Your Skin
Cover up: The best way to protect your skin is to cover it up. Wear UV-blocking clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and polarized sunglasses when you venture outdoors. Today’s UV-protective clothing is designed to be breathable and fast-drying, offering better sun protection than sunscreen alone and more comfort than clothes not designed for active wear. If you don’t want to invest in specialty UV apparel, choose clothes that optimize protection: Darker colors offer more protection than light colors; if you can see through it, so can the sun. Tightly woven synthetics (nylon or polyester) deflect more UV than loosely woven natural fibers like cotton or linen.
Wear sunscreen: Always use sunscreen when you’re out in the sun. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30; we also recommend choosing one that includes an FDA-approved physical blocker among its ingredients (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide). Apply about 1 ounce (or 2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Choose the right products: If you’re overwhelmed by the endless options for sunscreen and UV-protecting apparel, look for the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) seal. The organization offers a certification program for sunscreens and protective apparel (and even cosmetics). Products that meet the SCF’s strict criteria can carry the SCF seal on their labels. You can search the SCF website for certified products. Another good resource to consult when selecting a sunscreen is the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of safe and effective sunscreens.
Plan accordingly: It’s best to plan outdoor activities and chores before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. You should try to limit sun exposure during the mid-day hours as much as possible, as that’s when the sun is harshest.
Seek shade: Find shady places to lounge and play—but sitting in the shade doesn’t mean you should skimp on the sunscreen or forego protective clothing. Because the sun’s UV rays will reflect off the beach or even a boat’s deck, umbrellas and boat biminis can only offer partial protection from harmful rays.
Get checked: See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
Stay hydrated: Drink water throughout the day. If you’re on the go, take a refillable water bottle and a container of fresh fruit along to prevent dehydration and heat stroke.
Infants’ and Kids’ Sun Safety
Many of the same sun protection rules apply for children as they do teens and adults, but be sure to choose sunscreen and clothing that is appropriate for the child’s age. Also remember to encourage kids to drink water; kids get busy playing and forget to drink, so offer water frequently.
0 – 6 months: Do not apply sunscreen to infants younger than 6 months. Invest in breathable, protective clothing for the baby; avoid staying in the sun or heat for very long; and always find a shady spot to hang out. Infants cannot regulate their body temperatures and can overheat or dehydrate easily.
6 months – 1 year: Protective clothing that covers arms and legs should be your first choice, but back that up with a PABA- and DEET-free sunscreen. Stick-style sunscreens work best for tiny faces. Try to find a sun hat with a wide brim on the front and a neck flap on the back. Make sure the hat’s neckstrap has a breakaway clasp so they won’t be choked if the hat gets caught on something.
All kids > 6 months: Use a PABA-free sunscreen and avoid aerosols. Reapply every two hours.
For kid-friendly UV-protective apparel, check out SCF’s database of certified brands, which includes makers like Coolibar and Under Armour, so you know the kids will have reliable protection.
A Primer on Sun Protection
Ultraviolet light (UV): Invisible energy given off by the sun, UV is divided into three levels— UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA: Sun rays that can penetrate the skin’s deeper layers, UVA is thought to play a major part in aging, wrinkling, and developing skin cancers.
UVB: Sun rays that are responsible for burning, tanning and accelerating aging, UVB plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.
UVC: Sun rays that are filtered by the ozone and do not reach the earth’s surface.
SPF: A sunscreen’s SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is figured by comparing the time it takes protected skin to burn to the time it takes unprotected skin to burn. The SCF recommends broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for daily use or SPF 30 or higher for those days when you’ll be outside more.
Broad-spectrum protection: A sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
UPF: Reliable UV-protective clothing will carry a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating, which will tell you how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. (Example: A UPF-50 shirt allows 1/50th of the UV to reach the wearer’s skin.) According to the SCF, a UPF rating of 30 to 49 is very good protection and 50-plus offers excellent protection.
Sunscreen physical blocker: Inorganic sunscreens such as metal oxides absorb and reflect UV away from the skin; these are better for people with sensitive skin. These include octocrylene, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which all protect against UVA and UVB.
Sunscreen chemical blocker (absorber): Most FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients fall into this category. They protect by forming a thin, protective layer on the skin and absorbing the UV before it penetrates the skin.
Waterproof sunscreen vs. water-resistant: A water-resistant sunscreen can be worn for 40 minutes while the wearer is sweating or in the water, and a waterproof sunscreen can protect for up to 80 minutes.