The sun can impact your health in both positive and negative ways. While the sun can provide much-needed Vitamin D for our bodies, it can also cause some harmful effects like skin damage or even cancer.
Effects of the Sun
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to the sun and light triggers the release of serotonin in the brain, which is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. Darkness at night triggers the release of melatonin, which helps you to sleep. Decreased sun exposure has been linked to a drop in serotonin, which can have negative effects on a person’s overall mood.
Exposure to the sun also causes a person’s skin to create Vitamin D. This vitamin is linked to healthy bones and teeth.
Exposure to the sun also means exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is a major risk factor for most skin cancers.
There are 3 main types of UV rays:
- UVA rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers. Most tanning beds give off large amounts of UVA, which has been found to increase skin cancer risk.
- UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage skin cells’ DNA directly, and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
- UVC rays have more energy than the other types of UV rays, but they don’t get through our atmosphere and are not in sunlight. They are not normally a cause of skin cancer.
The strength of the UV rays reaching the ground depends on a number of factors, such as:
- Time: UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Season: UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months.
- Altitude: More UV rays reach the ground at higher elevations.
- Cloud cover: The effect of clouds can vary. At times, cloud cover can block UV rays from the sun, and at times they can reflect UV rays and increase exposure. What is important to know is that UV rays can get through, even on a cloudy day.
- Reflection: UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, snow, pavement, or grass, leading to an increase in UV exposure.
What is SPF?
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. But, what do the different numbers mean? If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer, or about five hours. However, it should still be reapplied to prevent sunburn. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Sun Protection Tips
- Check the UV Index before spending time outside to determine how much protection you should use.
- Cover yourself in sunscreen before putting on your clothing. Working around clothing and swimsuits can cause missed spots. Additionally, SPF must sit on skin for around 20 minutes before it is fully effective. If you wait to apply until you are outside you will have a window of time with little to no protection.
- Choose UV blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Check expiration dates on SPF products. Active ingredients become less effective over time.
- To further protect your skin, wear a wide brimmed hat and/or long sleeved clothing. Limit the time you spend in the sun.
Protection from Skin Cancer
Each year, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer. Even if you follow all of these precautions, you are still at risk for skin cancer if you spend time in the sun. Be on the lookout for any spot or marking that is new, or one that changes in size, shape, feel, or color. You should also be aware of any unusual sore, lump, or blemish, or any change in how skin looks and feels — particularly any crusting, oozing, or bleeding, as well as itching, tenderness, or pain.
Here are five easy steps to perform a self exam:
- Take off your clothes and stand facing the full-length mirror. Check your chest, shoulders, and arms, as well as under each arm, and look down the fronts of the thighs and calves.
- Bend your elbows and examine your forearms and the backs and palms of your hands.
- Grab the hand mirror and check the backs of your legs and the bottom of your feet. Also, be sure to check between the toes.
- Still using the hand mirror, check the back of your neck. Part your hair — and if necessary, use a blow dryer to move it around — and check not only your scalp, but the area around and behind each ear.
- Finally, use the hand mirror to examine your buttocks, genitalia, and lower back.
If you find any unusual spots, schedule an appointment with a doctor or dermatologist. We are always available for walk-ins or scheduled appointments.