sun exposure – Shining a Light on Sun Exposure

Shining a Light on Sun Exposure

At last: mid-July summer sun and rising temperatures are upon us! Sun exposure is no laughing matter – days of sunburn, sunscreen, and sunshine are ahead. What comes with sunshine? Every time we step outside, we are exposed to the sun (even on those cloudy days). The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) advises that we educate our children, friends, and family about the dangers of sun overexposure.

What’s In Your Sun Exposure?

The sun gives off rays that can be harmful. These ultraviolet (UV) rays come in three packages: UVA, UVB, and UVC. While UVC rays are the worst, we aren’t exposed to them (hooray, ozone layer!). UVA rays are the most common way that the sun reaches our skin. Even though UV rays aren’t able to be seen, they can go through our skin and reach our epidermis cells, affecting our melanin.


Melanin is a pigment in our bodies that protects our skin and creates Vitamin D. What happens when you have too much exposure to the sun? We’ve all had sunburn. If you have somehow managed to avoid it, sunburn is when your skin is overexposed to the sun. Your blood vessels dilate, indicating redness, and your skin tightens from losing moisture. After this, your skin cells produce melanin to stop the UV rays from reaching your deeper skin layers. While this anatomical response is admittedly cool, it can also be incredibly painful. Clothes feel uncomfortable, hot showers are no longer blissful, and spaghetti straps are a new form of punishment.

sun exposure – Shining a Light on Sun Exposure

All jokes aside, severe sunburn can inhibit the body’s natural way of coping with exposure and affect your skin cell DNA. This can lead to skin cancer or melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, almost 193,000 estimated cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the US in 2019 alone. Stay aware of the warning signs (the ABCDEs, if you will) so that you can keep an eye on your skin health.

Not Quite A-peel-ing

Why does sunburn peel? Personally, peeling my sunburn is the only perk of having blinding Irish skin. While some find it gross, peeling is the body’s way of shedding the damaged cells so healthy ones can grow. If you have a sunburn, what steps do you take? First of all, it may benefit you to find shade. Drink water and take care of your skin! Taking a cool bath can help with the burning sensation. A good point made by Dermalogica is to avoid greasy lotions and creams. Using aloe or other after-sun pharmaceuticals can help lessen the inflammation of your skin without the greasy build-up. You can also try these home remedies from MedicineNet!

Preventing Sunburn

Fortunately, sunburn is highly preventable! Unfortunately, there’s no secret genetic code that will get you out of having to use it. Everyone needs sunscreen; it helps protect your skin from UV rays. If you walk into any corner market, you’ll see a vast array of sunscreens. Sprays, lotions, balms, kid-friendly, SPFs across the board – the options are overwhelmingly and virtually limitless. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use sunscreens that offer:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (All UV rays)
  • SPF 30 or higher (Class of SPF 75 over here)sun exposure
  • Water resistance (Ever get sunscreen in your eyes? You’ll thank me later)

The reason I say “highly preventable” and not simply “preventable” is that sunscreen alone can’t fully protect you from the sun’s rays.

Considering the sun’s rays are at their strongest between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, try to seek shade when you start feeling the heat. Wearing hats, sunglasses, and lightweight clothing can also assist. Make a point to check your skin every so often to check for abnormalities. If you notice anything abnormal, see a board-certified dermatologistI can’t stress that enough; I’m not a doctor, but I do know that skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early on. This isn’t just for us; parents, check your kids and keep them safe in the sun! Check out this article from the CDC to learn about sunburn and your child.

Understanding the Tan

My pale skin has never seen the inside of a tanning bed, but I did live through the Snooki Era so I did know a lot of frequent flyers. The apparent draw to tanning beds is the safer science to getting a bronzed look without the sun wreaking havoc on your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology laid out the facts – you can read them here, but I’ll lay them out below.

  1. Tanning beds are not safer than the sun! Just one tanning session can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
  2. Tanning makes your skin age more quickly.
  3. Tanning beds can cause serious injury. Burns, loss of consciousness, and eye injuries are among them.
  4. Getting a base tan (Apparently, this is a thing) does not prevent sunburn.
  5. Tanning salons have been known to give “false and misleading information” to their customers. If you decide to use a tanning bed, do a lot of research on the facility so you know what you’re getting into!
  6. It’s never too late! Quitting indoor tanning can help you live longer. The CDC estimates that no one under the age of 18 ever used a tanning bed, we could prevent nearly 62,000 cases of melanoma and more than 6,700 deaths due to melanoma.

Tan safely! Self-tanners can grant you a tanned look without the harmful UV radiation. Shop around, read reviews, and do research! It can only help you in the long run in the fight against sun exposure.


Madeline Kelly, Digital Communications Coordinator

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