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Your guide to sun safety

There was once a time, many centuries ago, when pale skin was a sign of wealth and beauty. People believed that only the poorest citizens had to slave away outdoors, tanning under the harsh sun. Eventually, times changed, and for some, darker skin became the symbol of wealth. People felt that only the rich could afford to take frequent vacations to warm, tropical getaways.

Sunscreen use is an imperative part of sun safety.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Tanning is a dangerous fad that continues even today. People spend countless dollars and endless hours every year on tanning oil, tanning beds, and sunbathing. In an attempt to align themselves with an unfounded trend, people are actually putting their health in jeopardy. Fortunately, there are a few important ways that anyone can stay safe under the burning rays of the hot sun.

Sunbathing and Tanning Beds

  • Both tanning beds and sunbathing can cause melanoma, or skin cancer. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer. In advanced stages, melanoma can be fatal.
  • Tanning beds are even more dangerous than sunbathing. Both methods expose you to harmful UVA and UVB rays, but tanning beds deliver the rays in concentrated form - just inches away from your skin.
  • Sunbathing and tanning beds destroy your collagen, leading to premature aging, wrinkles, sagging skin, and discoloration. The damage is cumulative, and it can also be permanent.

All About Sunscreen

  • Staying safe in the sun requires four items: sunscreen, a hat, UVA- and UVB-protection sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing.
  • You require about a shot glass worth of sunscreen for your whole body. Don't forget areas like ears, lips, and eyelids.
  • You must apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure so that it can absorb into your skin.
  • The sun protection factor, or SPF, measures how long it would take to burn with versus without sunscreen. You need an SPF of at least 30.
  • Usually, the sunscreen in makeup is not enough. You generally won't apply enough makeup to sufficiently protect your skin, and the SPF is often not high enough anyway.
  • You must reapply sunscreen every two hours and after you swim or sweat.
  • When using a spray sunscreen, spray it into your hand first, then apply. You don't want to inadvertently inhale the particles.
  • Physical sunscreen usually contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. This formulation can sometimes cause a white cast in photographs. If this is an issue, try a chemical sunscreen containing avobenzone.

More Fast Facts

  • Sun damage can still occur in cars, through windows, and during rainy and cold weather. Prepare accordingly.
  • "Base tans" are not healthy. It is still sun damage, and they still put you at risk.
  • When you examine moles for signs of melanoma, remember ABCDE: asymmetry, (uneven) border, (multiple) colors, diameter (larger than a pencil eraser), and evolving (traits or symptoms).
  • Instead of getting Vitamin D from sunlight, you can get it from healthy foods such as wild-caught salmon, mushrooms, and low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Though the sun will always loom overhead, people are not doomed to a life stuck indoors. There will always be sizzling cookouts, ice cold drinks, pool parties, and memories that last a lifetime. But those memories don't have to include painful sunburns and damaged skin. With a bit of sun safety under your belt, you can have your fun in the sun without getting burned.