How To Be Sun Smart
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on June 24, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
In America there is a rising epidemic of skin cancer. With this comes the need to increase our sun protection strategies. In order to protect your skin this summer, there are a few things you should know about the sun’s rays and its effects on our skin.
Everyone is familiar with the basic rules of skin cancer prevention: apply a high SPF rated broad-spectrum sunscreen daily. But did you know that you should also check for any suspicious looking moles every three months and see a dermatologist annually for a skin cancer screening? If you are a high risk candidate for breast or ovarian cancer, you are also at high risk for having skin cancer too.
It has been estimated that in about ten year’s time, melanoma will be diagnosed more often than any other type of cancer.
However, this can be avoided if people can understand how they are at risk and learn about the different types of protection methods that are available to them. An easy way to remember all of this is by memorizing the acronym, AWARE. If every human being follows the methods listed under this acronym then the rate of skin cancer can and will be slowed down.
A – Avoid unprotected exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM, which are the peak UV hours.
W – Wear sun protective clothing and try to stay out of direct sunlight. Such clothing should always include a shirt, sunglass and a hat with a 3 inch brim.
A – Apply SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum sunscreen to any part of your skin that is exposed, at least 20 minutes before venturing outside. The sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours whilst under the sun’s rays.
R – Routinely check your skin for any suspicious looking moles or skin discoloration and discuss them with your doctor or dermatologist.
E – Express the need for proper sun protection to both your family and friends.
Other, more natural, ways to prevent skin cancer is to maintain a healthy weight, keep physically fit and be sure to eating a lot of foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as the more colorful, organic, fruits and vegetables.
There are four major points to consider when choosing a sunscreen. First make sure that you select a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Of these the better protection will be with the sunscreen that includes around 5% or more of zinc oxide (also called micronized zinc) or titanium dioxide, or Parsol 1789 (also called avobenzone) amongst the list of active ingredients.
Secondly, try to choose a sunscreen that has an SPF rating of 30 or higher. SPF 30 is the minimum level that is recommended by dermatologists.
Thirdly, choose a sunscreen that will accommodate your activity level, such as water sports equals using a waterproof sunscreen.
Fourth, make sure that the sunscreen you choose feels comfortable on your skin. Test the sunscreen out by applying a tiny amount to an exposed area of skin. Wait a few minutes before deciding. If you have sensitive skin, opt for a sunscreen that is designed as hypoallergenic or for babies.
Before venturing outside this summer, always check your city’s local UV index as it is able to predict the level of ultraviolet radiation that you could be exposed to. It is basically a computer model that is utilized in most countries around the world that factors in a multitude of variables that help determine the next day’s maximum UV level and peak UV hours. Such variables include the ozone, latitude and elevation, time of year and the time of day.
The ranges of the UV index are listed below:
UV Range less than 2 is quite low and therefore no protection is required.
UV Range 3 to 5 is considered a moderate UV level which requires some form of sun protection. It is best to avoid the sun when it is highest in the sky and apply sunscreen on all exposed skin.
UV Range 6 to 7 is quite high and sun protection is very strongly advised. Stay out of the sun’s rays when the sun is highest in the sky and be sure to wear adequate sun protective clothing, sunglass and hat. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen as well.
UV Range 8 to 10 is very high and requires extra sun protection. Follow the steps above, making sure to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
UV Range 11 is extreme and outside activities should be avoided.
Photo Credit: bradfordnotbradley
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan