Sunburn, Sunscreen and How to Avoid Damaging Ultraviolet (UV ) Light

Summer has arrived and individuals are outside trying to obtain the perfect tan.  Exposing yourself to the sun allows your skin to be exposed to ultraviolet light. We are most concerned about ultraviolet light in UV-A spectrum (320-400 nm) and the UV-B spectrum (290-320).  UV-A rays penetrate deeply and cause skin damage including photoaging of the skin, immunosuppression both locally on the skin and systemically and increased risk of cancer and infection. It is the UVB radiation that causes tanning.  The delayed tanning that occurs 3 days after exposure is due primarily to UV-B radiation and is due to a redistribution of melanocytes and new melanin synthesis and formation. This delayed tanning is at best mildly protective against sunburn SPF 2-3 but has no effect on protecting against cancer or photoaging.

Sunscreens can help reduce your risk of developing skin damage and cancer.  Sunscreens are either inorganic containing products that physically shield and block the effects of ultraviolet rays or organic compounds that physically absorb the ultraviolet rays. You should be looking for a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum” protecting against UV-A and UV-B rays.  You want a sunscreen that is substantive.  “Water resistant” products protect up to 40 minutes after water immersion.  “Very water resistant” products protect up to 80 minutes after water immersion.  Data and research shows that a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 17 or greater will provide protection against squamous cell carcinomas and photoaging but are less effective in preventing basal cell cancers and melanomas.

It is recommended that we use sunscreen daily on all sun exposed skin. The clouds only scatter UV-B Rays so on cloudy days you are being bombarded with UV-A rays despite it appearing to be overcast.  It will require about a shot glass worth of sunscreen to protect the most sun exposed areas (two tablespoons) which are the face, ears, hands, arms and lips. You should be using an SPF of at least 30 which should be applied 15-30 minutes BEFORE sun exposure.  It should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or heavy perspiration.

  • Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Water, sand and, in the winter, even snow reflect UV radiation so be extra careful in those environments.
  • Wear protective clothing such as closely woven, natural fiber, long sleeve shirts and pants, sunglasses and wide brimmed hats.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • Do not expect sunscreens to allow you to spend more time in the sun. Long exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays increases your risk of skin cancer and photoaging.

Summer means longer days and more time spent outside. Be prepared and protect your skin from damage and injury.

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