Sun Safety

Written by Staff Writer

Whether you're going on a trip or hanging out at home, spring break means spending time in the sun. Spending time outdoors can be relaxing and fun, not to mention sunlight provides your body vitamin D. But too much time in the sun without proper safety precautions can lead to painful burns or even skin cancer.

Ultraviolet Radiation

When spending all day in the sun, it is important that you do not allow your skin to be exposed to direct sunlight the entire time. Sunlight contains ultraviolet rays, known as UV rays, which damage the skin in a process called ultraviolet radiation. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate more deeply and are associated with long term aging of skin. It is the UVB rays that cause the immediate damage we know as sunburn.

If spending the day outdoors, follow these tips to prevent sun damage to your skin:

  • Limit exposure between 10am and 4pm when the sun is strongest
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat
  • Seek shade whenever possible
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection

If your sunglass lenses do not contain UV protection, you could actually be causing more damage to your eyes than wearing no glasses at all! The shade from the glasses allows your pupils to open more, which then allow the harmful UV rays to penetrate deeper into your eye.

Tanning Beds

Some people have the misconception that acquiring a base tan in a tanning bed before going out in the sun will prevent them from getting burned, but this is simply not true. Tanning beds deliver the same amount of UVB rays as the sun, and can deliver up to 12 times the amount of UVA rays as the sun. Additionally, people who believe the base tan will keep them from burning may stay out longer or wear a lower SPF, which leads to more sun damage.

Understanding SPF

Sunscreens use the measurement Sun Protection Factor (SPF) to convey the degree to which you will be protected from sunburn and UVB rays. SPF is a measure of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. The average light skinned person can stay in the sun about 15 minutes with no sun protection before they start to suffer minor sunburn. The SPF number is then multiplied by this number to determine how long the average person can stay outside.

  • SPF 15: 15 minutes x 15 = 225 minutes before burning (3.75 hours)
  • SPF 30: 15 minutes x 30 = 450 minutes before burning (7.5 hours)
  • SPF 50: 15 minutes x 50 = 750 minutes before burning (12.5 hours)
  • SPF 100: 15 minutes x 100 = 1500 minutes before burning (25 hours)

Keep in mind that reapplication is recommended every two hours, as sweating and swimming will decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen.

A lower SPF may protect you for short periods in the sun, but a sunscreen with higher SPF also filters more UVB rays from sunlight.

  • SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 block about 98% of UVB rays
  • SPF 100 blocks about 99% of UVB rays

Another important factor to look for in sunscreens is a broad spectrum sunscreen which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Use the infographic below to easily remember and share this information.

South of the Border Sun

These sun safety tips are good for those in North America, but if your spring break plans include a destination in Mexico, the Caribbean, South America or anywhere else closer to the equator you will need to protect yourself even more.

Near the equator, the sunlight is more direct and there is less ozone to provide additional filter. Anywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn is likely to have very strong sun and UV levels. In these regions you should wear at least an SPF 30 or higher if you tend to burn in North America with an SPF 30. You should also reapply more frequently when traveling to these areas.

Painful sunburns can put a damper on your spring break or even ruin your trip. By following some sun safety precautions, you can get a glow and enjoy the outdoors without causing damage to your skin.