While it’s easy to ignore advice like that in the quote above, it’s a message that actually holds quite a bit of truth. Cancer is a disease we generally do everything we can to prevent, but it’s hard not to wonder exactly how much of an effect our efforts have in the face of its underlying causes. Fortunately, when it comes to skin cancer—the most common form of human cancer—the causes (particularly sun exposure) are often easier to see, and the preventive treatments (including sunscreen) are often easier to undertake. Just a few simple precautions every day can help you protect yourself from this disease and its debilitating effects. Unfortunately, the market for sun care products is cluttered and confusing, so let’s look at some information that might help ensure that your aerobic adventures in the sunshine aren’t hurting your skin while they’re helping your heart and muscles.
Why is UV radiation so bad?
By now, virtually everyone knows about the dangers of skin cancer, but with more than 1.3 million cases reported in the United States last year alone, it seems that people just don’t think they spend enough time in the sun for it to affect them. In addition to cancer, ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause cosmetic damage, including wrinkles and age spots, and can worsen conditions like lupus. Sunglasses that block at least 99.5 percent of UVA and UVB rays are also crucial to avoid the damage the sun can cause to your eyes, which in some cases can lead to blindness. People who take certain drugs, such as antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, and retinoids, are at risk for being particularly sensitive to sun damage.
UVA (long-wave ultraviolet) rays make up 95 percent of the radiation that penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere and are primarily responsible for the darkening of the skin commonly referred to as tanning. UVB (short-wave ultraviolet) rays are less plentiful, but damaging to our skin nonetheless. UVB rays are mostly blocked out in winter months, and on colder, more overcast days, but UVA rays are prevalent year-round. The key thing to remember is that both types of rays are dangerous, and can lead to melanoma. And summer isn’t the only time of year you need to protect yourself!
What is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. Here’s a quote from the Skin Cancer Foundation1 to help you understand the term and its use:
“It takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red. Using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer—about 5 hours. Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 blocks approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.”
At least one ounce (two tablespoons) of lotion is needed to be applied to the entire body surface. Just remember—don’t skimp, and frequent reapplication is crucial. Water, sweat, and friction can all cause sunscreen to wear off more quickly than the time stated on the package, so it’s essential that you don’t go longer than 2 hours without reapplying sunscreen to your skin. Knowing your own skin type is an important element in determining how long you should be in the sun, what type of sunscreen you should apply, and how often you should reapply it.
There are also salons with tanning beds and booths, but if you choose to go that route, know that you’re being bombarded with UVA rays 12 times more powerful than those emitted by the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning salon patrons are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and one-and-a-half times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. The SCF also notes that exposure to tanning beds during one’s youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.
Don’t I need the vitamin D from sunshine?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps your immune system, muscles, and bones stay healthy and strong. However, the sun is not the only source of vitamin D, and about 10 minutes in the sun at midday is enough exposure for most Caucasians to get all the vitamin D they need. (Darker-skinned people can require two to six times as much sun to get the same amount of vitamin D.) If you have questions or concerns about how much sun is good for your skin, consult your doctor or dermatologist. Calcium-rich dairy products are typically rich in vitamin D, as are oily fish like salmon, trout, and fresh tuna. Beachbody’s Core Cal-Mag™ supplements are also a good way to boost your intake of vitamin D, as well as helping to build stronger bones and a stronger immune system.
What other precautions can I take?
A 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group2 concluded, “Sunscreen can only provide partial protection against harmful effects of the sun. Limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing are even more important when it comes to protecting against skin cancer and premature skin aging.” But before you start jogging in your winter parka, keep in mind that many clothing companies have sprung up in recent years in response to increased consumer demand for UV protection. Just remember to apply sunscreen to your uncovered parts.
It’s easy to overlook everyday dangers like sun exposure, but it’s important to remember to use sunblock and wear protective clothing whenever you’re going to be in the sun for prolonged periods. Closely monitor how much time you spend in the sun and make sure you reapply sunblock often, especially after swimming or sweating it off. Following these relatively simple precautions can go a long way toward keeping you safe from the dangers of the sun.
For more information about the data and studies mentioned above, visit:
1 The Skin Cancer Foundation: https://skincancerfoundation.org
2 The Environmental Working Group: https://www.ewg.org/