Don't Feel the Burn

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6/29/2008

The summer weather brings us warmer and longer days. If you are going to be out in the sun, especially for an extended period of time, here are some facts that will help you avoid feeling the burn.

The warm sunlight makes us feel better and gives us vitamin D so we can better absorb calcium into our bodies for strong bones. Sunlight also sends down invisible ultraviolet rays. Some ultraviolet rays even pass through clouds and penetrate the skin, and when your skin has been exposed to too many of these rays, you get what is known as sunburn.

Sunburns look bad and feel worse. Recurrent sunburns due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays increase the amount of wrinkles you have as you age, and they increase your risk for developing skin cancer.

You don’t need to hide from the sun completely to protect yourself. But you should take the following steps for yourself and your family:

1. Always wear sunscreen.

2. Take frequent breaks from the sun by going indoors or moving into the shade.

3. Keep young infants out of the sun. Begin using sunscreens on children at 6 months of age, and be aware that an infant can develop sunburn within less than 10 minutes of direct exposure to the sun.

4. Teach your children sun protection early. If sunscreens are applied regularly on children, they will develop good habits, and will continue to use them as teenagers and adults.

These steps are especially important between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. If you are fair skinned, you should use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. The letters SPF stand for sun protection factor, and the number rating tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. So if you normally burn after 20 minutes and you put on a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15, this sunscreen may give you 15 times the protection. That is 15 times 20 minutes, or 300 minutes (five hours).

But this isn’t always true, so reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, just to be safe. Do this more often if you have been swimming or sweating a lot — even if the sunscreen is waterproof.

Be sure to put sunscreen all over your body. This includes some places you might not think of, like the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, your face and the tops of your feet. Wear a baseball or golf cap or other fun hats to block your scalp and face from the sun.

Don’t forget that your eyes need protection from ultraviolet rays, too. Always wear sunglasses in the bright sun, and make sure they have a label saying that they block UV rays.