Stay Safe in the Sun

The long-awaited summer season is almost here. Winter is not terrible and spring and autumn are pretty nice, but let’s face it—summer is amazing in New England. Watch out Good Harbor and Cranes Beaches—here we come!

I am very fair-skinned and have never tanned. I just burn and peel. When I was a kid, we didn’t have “sunscreen.” Rather, we had sun lotion and tanning oils. The lotion gave us the impression that we would end the day at the beach with a beautiful golden-brown glow. A day at the beach usually ended with me the color of a fire engine, headachy, and chilled. A couple of children’s aspirin, a large glass of water, a cool shower, and a thick layer of Noxzema cream were my mother’s treatment for sunburn.

Nowadays, we understand more about how to spend the day safely in the sun, and there is a plethora of effective sunscreens available. You can get an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) anywhere from 5 to 100+. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. It’s important to apply a liberal amount of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. Extremely fair people and those with a high risk of cancer or other skin disease should consider higher SPF levels for any time in the sun.

In addition to sun screen lotions, sprays, sticks, etc., very effective UV (ultra violet) protection clothing is now available. The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that clothing shields you from the sun, but not all fabrics and colors provide equal protection.

When looking for apparel that will effectively shield you from harmful rays, keep these factors in mind:

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF): Some clothing makers provide UPF labels, which indicate exactly how much of the sun’s rays the garment can shield. Fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ rates as excellent.

Color: Dark or bright colors keep UV rays from reaching your skin by absorbing them rather than allowing them to penetrate. That’s why these colors offer better protection than lighter shades. A white t-shirt provides only moderate sun protection, with a UPF of about 7. When that T-shirt gets wet, it provides a UPF of only 3.

Construction: Densely woven cloth, like denim, canvas, wool, or synthetic fibers, are more protective than sheer, thin, or loosely woven cloth. Check a fabric’s sun safety by holding it up to the light. If you can see through, UV radiation can easily penetrate the fabric and reach your skin.

Fit: Loose-fitting apparel is preferable. Tight clothing can stretch and reduce the level of protection offered, as the fibers pull away from each other and allow more UV light to pass through.

Coverage: The more skin your outfit covers, the better your protection. Whenever possible, choose long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts.

Activity: Regardless of UPF, if your clothing gets stretched or wet, it will lose some of its protective ability and become more transparent, exposing your skin to more UV light.

Don’t forget your hat when you go out into the sun. A wide-brimmed hat is the perfect complement to UV-filtering sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your face and eyes.

Where possible, it seems that a combination of sun blocking lotion and fabric covering is best when we’re planning to be in the sun for any period of time. As much as possible, it is recommended that we cover up with more than just a chemical screen. However, sunscreen provides protection when it’s not practical or desirable to be covered by fabric.