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05.13 - May

Your heart health and cancer awareness
Sun smarts: 6 bright ideas to save your skin

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By Karis Gabrielson, R.N.
(Click for author bios in About us)

Fair-weather days — they can lighten moods, boost energy and bolster outdoor fun. But, all that sunshine has a dark side, too.

The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays damage skin. And, as many of us know firsthand, they can burn it, too. These harmful beams can raise our risk of skin cancer — and cause wrinkles and skin spots. Sometimes, certain medicines and health conditions can also increase our sensitivity to the sun.

Take a shine to sun safety
Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to protect yourself and the ones you love. Here are six tips to heed — day in and day out:

1. Keep an eye on the clock. The sun's midday rays tend to be most dangerous. If possible, schedule your outdoor activities before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. And, when you're outside, seek out the shady spots.

2. Cover up. The less skin that's exposed to the sun, the less damage done. If the weather allows, wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Choosing dark colors and tightly woven fabrics — and keeping clothing dry — can also help. A wide-brimmed hat is a must, too. It can help protect your face, ears and neck.

Another attire tip: You can also look for specialty clothing that is designed to help block the sun's rays.

3. Slather for safety. Use sunscreen every day — applying it at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. And, be generous. Most people don't use enough. Around 1 ounce — about a palmful — is usually needed to cover exposed skin.

Look for a broad-spectrum product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Many experts recommend an SPF of 30 or higher.

Skin cancer can develop on lips, too. So, use a lip balm or lipstick that includes sunscreen. And, keep in mind that no sunscreen product protects you completely. So, it's still best to avoid the sun when you can.

4. Go back for seconds. When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours — and more often if you're sweating or swimming.

See "Shedding light on the label" for more on choosing sunscreens.

5. Accessorize. Wear sunglasses that block 99 percent of UV rays. They'll help protect your eyes — and the skin around them.

6. Don't be fooled by Mother Nature. Sun damage can happen in cloudy and cool weather, too. So, stick with protection every day — even when fall and winter roll around.

In fact, the sun's rays can even be stronger when they reflect off snow. And, swimmers, boaters and beachgoers, take note: That's true for water and sand, too!

What about tanning booths?
Tanning beds and sunlamps also give off harmful UV rays. Even if you don't burn, they damage your skin and contribute to skin cancer.
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Quick tip

Protect against road rays
The sun's harmful rays can come through open car windows. And, some rays can get through windows even when they're closed. So, don't forget your sunscreen when commuting or traveling by car.

Shedding light on the label

Sunscreen labels may contain terms such as:
  • Broad-spectrum. This means it helps shield you from UVA and UVB rays — just what you want. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn. But, both types contribute to skin aging and cancer.
  • Sun protection factor (SPF). A higher number indicates more protection. For example, SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93 percent of UVB rays. SPF 30 products block roughly 97 percent. For SPF 50, it's 98 percent.
  • Water-resistant. For example, a label might say a sunscreen is water-resistant up to 40 or 80 minutes.