Hitting up the local park, the beach, or maybe even just your front patio lately? There’s nothing quite like getting out there and experiencing life first-hand, especially when you compare it to being cooped up all day in the office.
The good news about going outside is that fresh air and exercise is incredibly healthy for virtually every part of your body. The bad news is that each time you go outside, you’re exposing your skin to potentially harmful UV radiation. And while a little of that is a good thing (it helps our bodies produce Vitamin D), too much can lead to skin cancer, rapid aging, fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.
You can’t exactly stay inside forever (nor should you…you’ll end up deficient in Vitamin D). What you can do is get to know the sun, how it works, and which strategies really help to limit sun damage and exposure without limiting your fun.
1. CHECK THE UV INDEX
Here’s a little sun science for you…the sun is stronger today than ever before, mostly thanks to ozone layer depletion. According to NASA, the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation hitting the surface of the Earth has increased by nearly 30 percent in just 30 years – amazing!
Scientists measure the amount of UV radiation hitting the earth using a scale called the “UV index.” You’ve probably heard your local weatherman talking about it before, especially during summer heat waves.
Most standardized versions created for the public run from zero to 11+. The higher the rating, the more dangerous the sun’s rays are at any given time.
You should be checking the UV index regularly in the summer – at least once a day, and preferably, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. UV rays are generally highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but conditions can shift at any time. Try using Accuweather or The Weather Network; they’re fast and easy to use.
If you do have to cope with a high level of index, it’s time to talk about how to protect your skin from the sun. Fortunately, we happen to know a thing or two about that.
2. WEAR SUNSCREEN
“You don’t say!”
If that’s what you’re thinking…yes, most of us know we should wear sunscreen every day, especially during summer. It isn’t exactly a big secret. The problem? Way too many people don’t really understand this important sun damage prevention tool and how to use it correctly.
For example, SPF is critically important. Did you know that higher SPFs are better, even for people who don’t burn easily? How about the fact that you should wear a higher SPF for sure if the UV index is high, or that not every sunscreen covers both UVA and UVB rays?
Yes, all of these facts are true!
As for what you should use, the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommends a good broad-spectrum, 30 to 60 SPF formula. It should also be water-resistant and sweat-resistant for optimal results.
Sunscreen also has to settle into your skin for a while in order to be effective. You should apply it at least 30 minutes before you leave the house, and then reapply after two hours. If you swim or sweat a lot, reapply it.
Don’t be stingy when you apply your sunscreen, either. The instructions say generous for a reason. Slather it on!
3. USE PRODUCTS THAT PREVENT SUN DAMAGE
One of the most common complaints about using sunscreen is the fact that some formulas can make you feel oily or greasy. It’s also notoriously hard to apply sunscreen over makeup without making a giant mess.
The good news? You have other options. At least some of your favorite cosmetics have probably added SPF protection into their formulas.
Most brands add SPF protection into foundation, coverup, moisturizer, primer, or some other base product, rather than, say, eye shadows or liners. This is a logical result of the fact that base products cover more of your skin. The one exception is lipstick because sensitive mucosal tissues require heightened protection.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t normally protect your face with sunscreen, SPF cosmetics are a great alternative that doesn’t put you at risk.
Love a great hat? You’ll adore this sun damage prevention tip.
When you know you’re going to be spending time in the sun, think of ways you can provide your skin with a little bit of shade. No, you don’t need to carry a parasol like a Victorian lady. Unless, of course, that’s your style…in which case, carry on – they are pretty cute!
Look to pieces like wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, light scarves, and cap sleeved maxi dresses instead. Use these strategically to cover up the places you’re most likely to burn, such as the shoulders, nose, cheeks, back, and chest. As long as you choose light fabrics and materials, they won’t make you too warm.
Lastly, let’s talk about sunglasses. They don’t only protect your vision; the area around and under your eyes is generally protected, too. That matters because the delicate, thin skin in these zones is much easier to damage than, say, the skin on your arms or even the rest of your face. Without protection, you will see fine lines and wrinkles (crow’s feet) around your eyes at a much younger age.
It may be summer, and you may be sweating, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to moisturize anymore. In fact, hot showers + humid weather + your efforts to strip away excess oils might even leave you drier than you would be in winter. Because your own natural skin oils and moisture levels help to protect you from the sun, it’s important to replace anything you lose with a good, reliable product.
To combat the risk of dryness without making sweaty summer skin freak out, choose a light gel moisturizer – something with hyaluronic acid is ideal. This will help wick away dryness while also encouraging your skin to hold onto moisture better, too.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt if it also contains an SPF!
6. TREAT SUNBURNS QUICKLY
You did everything you could and still ended up burned. Is all lost? Are you doomed to develop wrinkles and sagging even though you’re only in your mid-30s? Absolutely not!
First things first, let’s talk safety and recovery. It’s okay to take care of light burns and mild redness at home (try after-sun products containing aloe).
If you have extreme redness, blisters, fever, nausea, broken skin, or a general feeling of malaise, you may have a more serious burn – and that carries a big risk for infection, heat stroke, and other complications. Make a doctor’s appointment and never try to pop fluid-filled blisters on your own.
As for general recovery strategies…drink plenty of water and be extra-kind to your skin. Avoid any harsh products (e.g., peels) for at least 30 days, and schedule an appointment for a facial or two once you recover a bit. There are a few different products out there that help with this kind of recovery immensely.