The month of August is Summer Sun Safety Month. This observance takes places as a reminder to keep yourself safe and healthy in the sun during the summer. Since summer is the time of year when most people spend more time outdoors, it is important to focus on protection from more sun exposure. Sunlight is essential for your body to produce vitamin D but too much sunlight can actually harm your skin and eyes. It is recommended to get sun exposure for 10-30 minutes at midday several times per week. However, as we learned in July during UV Safety Month, excessive exposure to sunlight means excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which causes most skin cancers and can also lead to cataracts and eye cancer. For this reason, precautions are necessary to reduce the risk of developing skin or eye diseases while having fun in the summer sun.
It is important to not jeopardize your health just by spending time outside and not protecting yourself from the sun’s UV rays. Some major health problems linked to overexposure to UV radiation include…
- Skin cancer
- Melanoma – The most serious form of skin cancer, causing more than 75% of skin cancer deaths.
- Non-melanoma – Less deadly than melanomas but can spread if left untreated, causing disfigurement and other serious health problems
- Basal cell carcinomas – The most common type of skin cancer tumors, it grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it can penetrate to the bone and cause considerable damage.
- Quamous cell carcinomas – Tumors that may appear as nodules/red scaly patches, and can develop into large masses and spread to other parts of the body.
- Actinic keratoses – Skin growths that occur on body areas exposed to the sun. Although premalignant, these skin growths are a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.
- Premature aging of the skin – Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays overtime can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery, but with proper protection this can be avoided.
- Immune suppression – The proper functions of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defense can be suppressed/weakened, reducing the skin’s ability to protect against these invaders.
- Cataracts – UV radiation increases the likelihood of certain cataracts, which if left untreated can cause blindness
- Pterygium – tissue growth that can block vision
- Skin cancer around or on the eyes
- Degeneration of the macula (the part of the retina where visual perception is most acute)
Understanding these risks and taking a few sensible precautions will help you enjoy the sun while lowering your chances of sun-related health problems. UV rays are reportedly at their strongest between 10am and 4pm – this can be checked via the UV Index, which forecasts the strength of the sun’s harmful rays. The higher the number of the UV Index, the greater the chance of sun damage. Protection from UV rays is necessary, especially during the summer time. To protect your skin, it is best to lather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) value of 30 or greater, and reapply every two hours or every one hour if swimming. Covering your body as much as possible and even using an umbrella for shade can also help protect your skin. Proper protection for your eyes would also lower your chances of developing any eye conditions. Look for sunglasses, glasses, or contact lenses that offer 99-100% UV protection, along with a wide brimmed hat to protect your eyes and the skin around them. In addition to the protections listed above, it is also important to stay hydrated in the summer because your body tends to lose water quickly and get dehydrated when in the direct sun. The sun can do quite a bit of harm to your body if you are negligent about protecting it, but complete avoidance of the sun is not healthy or necessary since your body needs moderate amounts of sunshine to produce vitamin D.
We observe Sun Safety Month as a reminder of safety and health. Though summer should be all about having fun and spending time outside, it is important not to neglect your well-being, especially with the simple precautions we have access to. The skin is the body’s largest organ, so we must continue to go to great lengths to protect it and keep it healthy. Summer Sun Safety Month encourages us to do so. How do you protect yourself from the summer sun?