The sun provides a wealth of benefits. Warmer weather means shedding your overcoat and a lower heating bill. Exposure to sunlight allows your body to create Vitamin D, which promotes bone health, and increases your white blood cell count, making you less susceptible to illness. Exposure to sunlight is also thought to help alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sunlight is an energy source that provides heat and light the world over, drives the water cycle, jumpstarts photosynthesis, and essentially serves as the fuel that makes the engine of the world run. It may even make you taller and stronger!
However, as with all good things, moderation is important. Improper protection from or overexposure to sunlight can harm your skin and eyes, which can result in skin cancer, cataracts, or other diseases. For this reason, it's good to know how, where, and when to protect yourself from the harmful aspects of sunlight and from overexposure.
The ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. The amount of damage caused by UV radiation depends on the strength of the light, the length of exposure, and whether the skin is protected. The best way to protect yourself is to cover exposed areas. You can do so by covering up, using sunscreen, wearing a hat, and limiting your exposure. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Let's look at each of these in more detail to learn how to protect yourself.
Covering up: Wear tight-woven clothing that blocks out light. If you can see your hand through the fabric, the clothing provides little protection.
Using sunscreen: A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UV rays. SPFs higher than 30 don't protect much more than 97%. Also: sunscreen allows light to penetrate to your skin, filtering out some radiation in the UV spectrum; sunblock is designed to prevent light from reaching your skin.
Wearing a hat: A wide-brimmed hat, as opposed to a baseball cap, is ideal because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
Wearing sunglasses: Sunglasses should block 99-100% of UV rays, which will go a long way toward preventing cataracts.
Limit exposure: Obviously, the best way to avoid the harmful effects of sunlight is to avoid sunlight altogether. But doing so also removes the benefits as well. It's best to avoid the times of day when UV exposure is at its peak: between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. An easy way to determine your sun safety is the Shadow Test. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun is beating down directly upon you and the sun's rays are at their most direct and strongest.
Remember, as the sun returns this spring and summer, there are several approaches you can take to protect yourself from the harmful effects of sun exposure while enjoying the benefits. Protect yourself, be safe, and enjoy your days in the sun.