HELENA — As temperatures warm we begin to shed the protective layers of clothing that keep us warm and safe in winter. While t-shirts and shorts help keep us cool, they do expose our skin to harmful rays of the sun.
“The reason for wearing sunscreen in the first place it prevents both short-term and long-term damage from ultraviolet rays,” explained Dr. David Baldridge.
On the hottest days of the summer, it can feel like there is no escape from the sun. However, even on those cloudy, cooler days, harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can still do damage to your skin.
“Sunscreen should be used anytime you are outside even on cloudy days you get about 80% of the damage ultraviolet rays coming through the clouds,” said Baldridge.
Which is the right sunscreen for you? Well that all starts with those three letters on almost every sunscreen bottle, “SPF.”
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number on the bottle does not inform consumers about the time that can be spent in the sun without getting sunburn, but rather SPF is a relative measure of the amount of sunburn protection provided by sunscreens based on the amount of solar radiation.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the use of a broadspectrum sunscreen with SPF15 or higher even on cloudy days. The broadspectrum label means it protects from both UVA and UVB.
People should also choose a sunscreen that is water-resistant. No sunscreen is completely waterproof and individuals should reapply it at least every two hours.
“30% of sun protection factor (SPF) actually blocks 97% of the ultraviolet rays, and anything higher than a 30 is not significantly more effective,” noted Baldridge.
Applying sunscreen typically depends on how much of the area of the body will be covered compared to in direct sunlight.
“It takes about one ounce or one-shot glass full of sunscreen to cover the whole body.”
Not wearing sunscreen for a short period of time can cause sunburn, and if you do not wear sunscreen for some time the long-term effects can be deadly.
“20 people a day in the U.S. are dying from melanoma, and 1 and 5, or 20% of people are going to get skin cancer sometime in their lifetime,” cautioned Baldridge.
Sunscreen is extremely important, but it’s only one part of protecting yourself. Wear good sun-protecting clothing, a wide brim hat, long pants and covering up well.
The sun has different effects on different shades of people. Those with medium or dark skin complexions have built-in protection from the sun called melanin.
Baldridge explained, “That’s because the melanin, which is the pigment in our skin, absorbs and dissipates the ultraviolet rays.”
However, anyone who spends a substantial amount of time in the sun- regardless of color- is vulnerable. Always protect yourself and try to avoid or limit yourself from the sun during peak hours, of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.