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The Dangers of Too Much Sun Exposure
With the upcoming beautiful weather, you and your loved ones are probably planning on making the most of the summer. Summer is one of the best times to sightsee in the park, swim in the pool, and play games outdoors.
Regular sun exposure is a great way to get vitamin D, and Healthline Media recommends that everyone gets at least 10-30 minutes of sun exposure for optimal vitamin D levels. They also state that people with darker skin might need to spend a little more time in the sun due to the fact their body doesn’t absorb vitamin D as easily.1
However, sitting out in the sun for long periods of time can put your health at risk, especially if you are not wearing sunscreen or protective clothing. Staying outside in the sun for too long can put you at risk for:2
- Skin cancer
- Aging and wrinkling
- Eye damage
- Immune system damage
How Sun Exposure Affects the Skin and Body
When sunburns occur on the skin, they are red and often painful to touch. They will be darker than the rest of the skin and can sometimes feel rough or cause blisters.
Most sunburns will appear within a few hours of sun exposure, and they can occur from the sun’s rays or an artificial source such as a tanning bed.
According to the Mayo Clinic, sunburns put your skin at risk for:3
- Dark spots
- Dry skin
- Wrinkled skin
- Skin cancers
Sunburns usually take a few days to begin to clear up and peel. A more severe sunburn that causes blisters, swelling, a high fever, or infections is a sign that you need to go to the emergency room.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It occurs when skin cells fail to replicate themselves correctly and create tumors.
UV radiation from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from the sun or an artificial source. According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with fair or freckled skin that easily burns are most at risk for skin cancer. Individuals with blond or red hair or those who possess a family history of skin cancer are more likely to be at risk as well.4
If you believe you might be at risk for skin cancer, talk with your doctor about your concern and how you can avoid damage from UV radiation.
Aging and Wrinkling
As the skin becomes thinner over time, wrinkles will naturally form on the body. However, premature aging and wrinkles are another way sun exposure damages the skin. Usually the face, hands, neck, and arms are most at risk for premature aging from the sun.
UV rays damage the skin by breaking down collagen, a protein that is a building block of the skin, as well as the elastic fibers that hold the skin together. As the skin’s layers break down, the skin will become less flexible and cause wrinkling.5
Some treatments may mitigate the effects of aging and wrinkling, however, the best line of defense against premature aging is to avoid sun damage. Take steps to care for your skin by wearing sunscreen and covering up areas that are at high risk for sun exposure.
One way that the sun damages your eyes is it can increase the risk for cataracts. Cataracts are when the lens of the eye becomes clouded, which makes it more difficult to see the world around you.6
Another way the sun can damage your eyes is by putting you at risk for growths such as pterygium. Pterygium is a growth on the eye that can cause irritation and distorted vision.7
Sun damage can put your eyes at risk for snow blindness, a form of sunburn that happens when UV rays damage the eyes after being outside. It can happen when light reflects off snow, sand, or water, but tanning beds and lamps have also been found to cause the condition. Snow blindness usually subsides after 24-48 hours, but damage during snow blindness includes eye pain, sensitivity to light, vision loss, and headaches.8
Immune System Damage
Your immune system works to prevent infections and keep you healthy. However, UV rays have been found to suppress the immune system by damaging the skin and making it harder for the immune system to protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and cancers.9
Ongoing research shows that the sun may weaken the effects of vaccines. Many vaccines protect you from contagious diseases that are easily spread such as the flu and chickenpox. However, the sun can weaken the immune system’s defense mechanisms that help protect the body from these diseases.10 Some vaccines have boosters available to help mitigate the waning effects that the sun may cause over time.
How to Protect Yourself from the Sun
Luckily, there are many different ways you can protect yourself from the sun and still enjoy the warm weather. Here are a few tips on how you can limit your skin’s sun exposure.
Limit Your Time in the Sun
If you’re planning to go out into the sun without protecting your skin, limit your time outside to keep your skin safe. You should stay outside for no longer than 30 minutes if you do not have adequate sun protection.
If you still want to enjoy the outdoors but avoid the sun, consider sitting in a shaded area on a patio or gazebo to avoid the sun’s rays while enjoying the warm weather.
You can also open the windows of your house to let in the fresh breeze and floral smells from outside. That way, you can enjoy nature without putting your skin at risk.
Sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun. According to the American Cancer Society, a good rule of thumb for choosing a sunscreen is to pick a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. They also recommend wearing a sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF.11
Experts found that sunscreen with a 30 SPF will protect you from 95% of the UVB rays, while 50 SPF will protect you from 98%.12 The higher SPF you go, the less of a difference it makes, but you should aim for at least 30 SPF to give your skin adequate sun protection.
If you and your loved ones are going to the pool or playing sports, wearing water-resistant sunscreen is important for long-lasting protection from water and sweat. Water-resistant sunscreen should be reapplied every 40-80 minutes depending on how long it takes for water or sweat to melt it off the body. The bottle will usually let you know how long a water-resistant sunscreen lasts.
Cover Your Skin
Another way you can avoid sun exposure is by covering your skin with protective clothing. Some items you can use to cover yourself from the sun’s rays include:
- Long, lightweight t-shirts and pants that cover the body
- Hats that cover the face, such as a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap
- Sunglasses that cover the face and protect the eyes
- Choosing dark colors over light ones that will better absorb the sun’s rays
Dressing smart can help you avoid sunburns and skin damage caused by the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
Avoid the Hottest Part of the Day
The hottest parts of the day during the summer season occur from 3 pm-4:30 pm, and this is when the sun’s rays are strongest. The reason the rays are strongest around 3 pm is the sun is at its highest at noon, and there is more heat incoming to the earth than leaving it.13
If you’re unsure how dangerous the sun will be in your area, many websites and weather apps can tell you how strong the rays will be each day. You can plan your daily activities around sun exposure and choose to stay indoors during the peak.
Be Safe and Smart in the Sun!
While sun exposure can damage your skin and body, protecting yourself from the sun’s rays can allow you and your loved ones to enjoy the warm weather all summer long.
Saber Healthcare is an organization that provides services to more than 115 buildings across the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Delaware, and Florida. To learn more about our company and services, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- Raman, Ryan. “How to Safely Get Vitamin D From Sunlight.” Red Ventures, Healthline Media. 28 April 2018. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun
- “Sun Safety.” John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/sun-safety#:~:text=But%20unprotected%20exposure%20to%20the,exposure%20do%20damage%20the%20skin.
- “Sunburn.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 17 July 2020. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20355922#:~:text=Sunburn%20is%20red%2C%20painful%20skin,may%20take%20days%20to%20fade
- “Sun Exposure & Skin Cancer.” Cleveland Clinic. 10 October 2019. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10985-sun-exposure-and-skin-cancer#:~:text=What%20causes%20skin%20cancer%3F,as%20exposure%20during%20the%20summertime.
- Braizer, Yvette. Cobb, Cynthia. “What to know about wrinkles.” Healthline Media, MedicalNewsToday. 27 July 2020. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/174852#treatment
- Woodward, Amanda. “5 eye conditions linked to sun damage.” AAV Media, LLC, All About Vision. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/sun-damage-result/
- Eghrari, Omid. “Pinguecula and Pterygium.” John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pinguecula-and-pterygium#:~:text=A%20pterygium%2C%20also%20known%20as,either%20side%20of%20the%20eye.
- “WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT SNOW BLINDNESS?” Fry Eye Associates. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.fryeye.com/blog/what-should-i-know-about-snow-blindness#:~:text=What%20is%20snow%20blindness%3F,resulting%20in%20a%20burned%20cornea
- “Health Effects of UV Radiation.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Last Updated 4 January 2022. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/health-effects-uv-radiation#immune
- “Radiation: Effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin, eyes and immune system.” World Health Organization. 17 September 2003. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/Radiation-effects-of-ultraviolet-(uv)-radiation-on-the-skin-eyes-and-immune-system
- Simon, Stacy. “Choose the Right Sunscreen.” The American Cancer Society. 11 June 2018. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/choose-the-right-sunscreen.html
- “How to Choose the Right Sunscreen.” Saber Healthcare Group. 28 May 2021. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/how-to-choose-the-right-sunscreen
- “What is the hottest time of day? 3 P.M., or noon?” Yankee Publishing, Almanac. Accessed 2 May 2022. Link: https://www.almanac.com/fact/what-is-the-hottest-time-of-dayr#:~:text=Facebook%20Twitter%20Email-,What%20is%20the%20hottest%20time%20of,3%20P.M.%2C%20or%20noon%3F&text=The%20hottest%20time%20is%20around,to%20be%20greater%20than%20incoming.