By Taryn Tacher
Nothing beats a beach day. From the sand between your toes to the gentle breeze in your hair to the rush of salty seawater washing up onto the shore, what more could you ask for on a hot summer day? That is, until you come home with a nasty sunburn. Forgot to reapply? Missed a spot? Now your skin is red and splotchy and warm to the touch. And while it may fade to an enviable sun-kissed tan a few days later, the damage has been done. Overexposure to the sun can be harmful — causing sunburns, heat rashes, wrinkles, and in severe cases, even cataracts and skin cancer — so be sure to protect yourself this summer and every day after that.
Besides applying sunscreen, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you wear a hat with a wide brim to shield your face, ears and neck. Also, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, but be mindful that not all clothing is equally as protective. According to Skincancer.org, the fabrics we wear are comprised of tiny fibers that are woven together. UV rays are still able to penetrate our skin through the seemingly invisible holes between fibers, so the tighter they are bound, like in denim or tweed, the more protective the clothing is. Aim to wear Lycra, nylon, rayon and polyester —they are less penetrable than cotton and linen. The less skin left exposed to the sun, the better. Do not forget to also wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. You may even want to invest in a pair of polarized-lens sunglasses because they eliminate the glare of the sun bouncing off glass, water, pavement and other surfaces.
But while long sleeves, hats and sunglasses are obvious protectants against the sun, it is important not to forget about the rest of our bodies.
“The most common areas overlooked when protecting ourselves from the sun are lips, ears, eyes and scalp,” Miranda Whitmer, dermatologist and partner at Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery, said.
She recommends wearing a wide brim hat to cover your ears and scalp, sunscreen containing lip balm to shield your lips and sunglasses to decrease the amount of sun exposure your eyes get.
Beyond protectant clothing and accessories, staying in the shade during midday hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest will help keep you safe from sun damage.
“Exposure to UV light is the number one factor in developing skin cancer,” said Dr. Whitmer. “Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and is estimated to affect one in five Americans in their lifetime.”
But even with all the risk, the sun is not all bad. According to a 2016 study from Georgetown University Medical center, sunlight energizes our T cells, which play a role in boosting our immune systems. And exposure to sunlight also helps the skin synthesize vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones.
So, while it would be unwise to spend countless hours basking unprotected under the blazing summer sun, there is no need to avoid it altogether. A little sunshine will do you good, as long as you take the necessary measures to shield your skin. Grab your swimsuit, your sunscreen and your hat — it is time to hit the beach.