Shed Some Light: Protect Yourself From Harmful Rays

Protecting your skin is important for more than one reason. Whether the motive is vanity, health, or a combination of the two, looking after your skin should be a priority as sun damage is a serious risk to the unprotected.
By Cara Lucas

Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It serves to protect your internal organs; houses nerve endings that provide sensation; regulates heat; controls evaporation; stores liquids; and absorbs oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. When the sun’s ultraviolet rays shine on this sensitive organ too long, bad things can happen.

Of course, a nice, warm glow comes in the form of a tan and we all know how good that can make us feel. However, it’s important to be able to distinguish how much is too much, and be able to make the smart decision (and not always the fun decision) to get out of the sun before it gets out of hand.

Getting out of the sun doesn’t mean packing up and heading inside, although that may be the best choice for some with very sensitive skin. It just means being creative with your choice of protection and educating yourself on what works and what doesn’t. Essentially, there fails to be a foolproof plan that completely protects your skin from the sun while you are still in the sun, but there are ways to smartly regulate the amount of vitamin D you soak up, as well as guard against dangerous rays.

Sun-Protective Clothing

It’s true that all fabric disrupts UV radiation to some extent, but today, more than ever, people are taking an even more cautious approach when choosing clothes for sunny, outdoor activities. On the current outdoor market, clothes with a built in UPF (Ultraviolet

Protection Factor) are a big hit. UPF gauges a fabric's effectiveness against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and UVB light. The UPF factors range from 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent) and are perfect for children; those who are fair skinned or sun-sensitive; or for individuals who spend lots of time at high elevations, in equatorial regions, or on reflective surfaces such as snow or water.

Besides high-tech clothing, a good sunhat and UV-protected sunglasses shield your face against unwanted rays. You can have fun with these products, too—pick colors and styles that appeal to your inner diva. Kids will have fun picking out their own, which can be an incentive to actually get them to wear protective gear!

Sunscreen

The various SPFs on the market today can be a little confusing to say the least. The protection factor surges from SPF 15 to SPF 100, but is there really that much difference between all those numbers? According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), as the number climbs higher, the less quality difference there is between the SPFs. Research has found that the percentage of UVB rays blocked between an SPF 55 and SPF 100+ is less than one percent.

What really matters is the amount of sunscreen you apply and how often you re-apply it. The AAD recommends using a shot glass full, or approximately one ounce, of sunscreen to cover all of the exposed areas, which include the hands, arms, face, ears, and the lips. When applied 15 to 20 minutes before an outing, sunscreen should last between 40 minutes and 2 hours before it’s time for a re-application, depending on your day’s activities.

Dermatologists strongly recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVB and UVA rays. They also suggest an SPF of at least 30 to be worn all year round by people of all skin types.

Food

A good way to way to ensure that you are better shielded from the sun is to incorporate plenty of antioxidant-rich foods into your diet. Antioxidants help protect the skin from DNA damage that UV rays create. You can get your dose of these healthful immune boosters in both oral and topical forms. Vitamins A, C, E, and green tea are just a few good options to think about when it comes to boosting your sun-immunity. However, don’t rely solely on this natural protectant—always accompany it with the recommended amount of sunscreen.

Superfoods, as they are called, act as an internal sun-defense system and, because they are rich in antioxidants, have the ability to prevent and heal cellular damage caused from ultraviolet rays. Here are a few superfood to incorporate into your diet:

Watermelon: This food gets its bright color from a nutrient called lycopene, which is full of antioxidant power that helps protect from the sun. In general, fruits and vegetables with deep pink and red colors are rich in lycopene and provide a natural sun-protection factor.

Green, Leafy Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, kale, and chard are just a few examples of green vegetables whose main antioxidant, lutein, acts as a light filter to protect your eyes and skin from harmful rays. Studies show that they also help to cut squamous cell skin cancer by 50 percent.

Green Tea: With high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, green tea helps neutralize the effects of a sunburn. Green tea is included in the top ten foods that fight against cancer—skin cancer included.

Fish: Fish is loaded with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of skin damage, inflammation due to sunburn, and potentially, skin cancer.

Tomatoes: Lycopene in tomatoes becomes more concentrated after heating, so it is best to eat these cooked. They also contain a significant amount of vitamin C, which does a great job of fighting sun damage.

Almonds: Loaded with vitamin E, just a few almonds pack a punch that will help protect you from the sun for hours. Vitamin E protects against free-radical damage that can harm your skin, as well as your internal organs.

Dark Chocolate : This superfood has at least 60 percent cocoa content and is full of antioxidants. It neutralizes oxidative damage caused by UV radiation and decreases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

 

The ABC’s of Skin Cancer

“Early detection is your greatest ally. Learning what to look for, and learning that it is easier to ask than to panic or hide, is your best friend,” says Dr. Friedman, a practicing dermatologic oncologist in New York City and Clinical Professor at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology. He is also the founder of MD Solar Sciences sunscreen.

Make sure to check your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer—especially around the face, ears, neck, arms, hands, and back. The most common types of skin cancer are squamous cell and basal-cell carcinomas. If caught early, you can treat them effectively without causing too many serious problems. Go to the doctor if abnormalities in the skin do not improve within a couple of weeks.

The American Academy of Dermatology has created an easy-to-remember way for you to determine if a strange spot on your skin could be cancerous:

A is for asymmetrical shape: Be aware of moles with irregular shapes.

B is for irregular border: Look out for moles with irregular edges or cauliflower-like borders.

C is for changes in color: Watch out for moles with more than one color or uneven shading.

D is for diameter: Look for pencil-eraser sized moles (about ¼ inch) that are growing in width.

E is for evolving: Keep an eye out for spots that experience changes over time like size, color, shape, or if they itch or bleed.