Spring has sprung, bringing with it your desire to enjoy all things outside. Gardening, house projects, or simply going for a walk all beckon you to take pleasure in the sunlight and breaths of fresh air. It is easy to spend hours lost in that pleasure, particularly if you have been cooped up for months due to the cold weather of winter. But long hours in the sun can lead to sun exposure and skin damage. How do you enjoy being outside when you have to worry about the sun? Is there such a thing as a healthy amount of sunshine? Understanding the role the sun plays in your health and how to protect yourself will allow you enjoy your time outside and gain health benefits as well.
How Harmful Is The Sun
One of the most important things to remember is that sunshine is actually good for you. Yes, you must be cautious when it comes to how much you are in the sun, as well as leaving your skin unprotected; but, your body thrives on the nourishment it receives from the sun. Vitamin D, provided by the sun, seeps through your skin and offers your immune system a healthy boost. The risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, and heart disease can all be lessened with vitamin D. Additionally, your mental and emotional health can be enhanced with sun exposure, as it protects against insomnia and depression.
However, a balance has to be struck between sun exposure and protection from the sun. The unfortunate reality is that too much sun can cause damage to the skin and to your health. Skin cancer, cataracts, and even early aging can be caused or aggravated by too much sun exposure. The general recommendation for unprotected exposure to the sun is ten to twenty minutes a day, although that varies slightly based upon the lightness or darkness of your skin.
Protecting The Skin During Exposure
It is virtually impossible to enjoy the day or finish all of your spring tasks in that maximum recommended time frame though. Because of that, it is important to know what to protect and how to protect it so you do not damage your skin or your health.
- Keep Covered: One of the best ways to protect your skin is to keep it shaded as much as possible. Long sleeves, pants, and hats go a long way to provide the necessary shade. Tightly woven materials work better to reflect the sunlight, particularly when they are darker in color. Fabrics that are loose fitting also help keep you cool while out in the heat. Any hat you wear should offer protection from a wide brim that goes entirely around the hat; baseball-style hats provide excellent shade for the face but do little to protect the neck.
- Eat to Protect Yourself: Research indicates you can also protect yourself from the sun’s rays through diet. Both beta carotene and lycopene have shown great promise in protecting you from the inside. Beta carotene is an antioxidant found in yellow fruits such as apricots, melons, mangos, red and yellow peppers, and leafy vegetables. Lycopene is a phytonutrient and carotenoid found in grapefruits, watermelons, tomatoes, and papayas. In order to receive the best benefits from these two nutrients, they must be included in your diet through a minimum of five daily servings for at least ten weeks. Whether eaten together or separately, these natural foods internally protect your skin from sunburn.
- Use Sunscreen: Whether made from all-natural ingredients or store bought, sunscreen is vital to protecting your skin. Beginning at least thirty minutes before you go outside, slather on the sunscreen to all areas that will be touched by the sun. Once you are outside, continue reapplying at least every two hours. Using a thin layer will rarely help protect your skin; thicker layers of sunscreen last longer and cover the skin better.
- Don’t Forget The Small Parts: Most people remember to use sunscreen or other products to protect the arms, legs, and face, but it is the smaller parts that are often forgotten. Your ears, nose, fingers, feet, and lips are just as susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays as are the larger parts of your body; they are also some of the first to burn when left unprotected. Make sure you cover your ears, nose, fingers, and feet with sunscreen before and during your outing. Additionally, using lip balm with an SPF of at least fifteen will protect your lips from damage.
- Watch the Clock: Being outside for your chores and activities in the early morning or evening hours is also one of the best ways to keep you safe from the sun’s harmful rays. The sun is considered to be the most damaging during the middle of the day, particularly from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. If you must be outside during those hours, take care to stay shaded, covered, and ensure you reapply sunscreen. Ideally, it is best to be inside during the heat of the day – for your skin as well as your own health. Taking a small break in the mid-afternoon will allow you to rehydrate, refuel, and rest.
Treating The Skin After The Sun
Unfortunately, even with the best efforts, there are times when you are in the sun too long and may suffer some damage. When that occurs, treating the skin as quickly as possible can protect against further damage.
- Drink large amounts of water to rehydrate your body and your skin.
- Liberally apply moisturizers or cream, but nothing oily—this will only intensify the burn.
- Use aloe to cool skin that has been heated from a sunburn, if necessary.
Spring and summer lead to marvelous days outside with long hours in the sun. As you enjoy those moments, ensure you are doing everything possible to protect your skin and to find your balance of healthy sun exposure.