Doctor and patient, University Health Center, University of Georgia
Back to Health A-Z page

Sun Sense


Check out "Sunscreen With Flare--The Scoop on Sunscreen" on the UGA Healthy Dawg Blog


Hot Tips for Summer Sun Worshippers

Tired of a long winter indoors? Before you break outside to the beach and experience your first burn of the season, here are some things you should keep in mind - what you do today in the sun can have long-term effects on your physical health later in life. Prematurely aging skin, skin cancer, cataracts, and herpes simplex I (cold sores) are all by-products of sun-overexposure. Take note: to have fun in the sun - whether sport or pleasure - play it safe using preventive sunscreen measures to block the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Natural sunlight emits wavelengths that become harmful once they reach the surface of the earth as UV light. UV radiation is responsible for tanning and associated skin damage. UV light is composed of several different types: UVA radiation is the predominant type reaching the earth's surface. Most modern tanning facilities use UVA rays which can produce redness of the skin and resulting skin damage. UVB rays are fully absorbed by the skin; thus they are responsible for many damaging effects attributed to skin exposure, including sunburn.

The ozone layer which normally absorbs harmful ultraviolet rays is depleting; its protection is diminished, thus allowing these harmful rays to penetrate the earth's surface and affect sun bathers.

It takes just a little common sense to reap the rewards of a sunny day without jeopardizing your health or causing unnecessary discomfort. The following information provides a primer of what to look for.

Eye-Catching

Sunglasses need to filter out UVA and UVB rays. While most sunglasses provide comfort in the sun by blocking visible light rays, nearly half don't provide adequate ultraviolet or blue light (which is higher in frequency than ultraviolet light) protection. Lens tint provides visible light ray protection, but it is the chemicals that lenses are treated with that provide blocking power. Therefore, even darkly tinted lenses can still allow damaging radiation to enter the eye. Conversely, clear lenses can be treated to block ultraviolet rays almost 100%.

Always look for glasses that block as much ultraviolet radiation as possible and at least 75% of visible light. Labeling for ultraviolet and visible light blocking is voluntary for non-prescription sunglasses. With no government standards, consumers should look for glasses that at least meet the standards of the American National Standard Institute (ANSI). Glasses that conform to ANSI standards have "Z-80.3" printed on the frame. The American Optometric Association (AOA) has set an even higher standard of safety than ANSI, specifying that a minimum 99% of both UVA and UVB rays be filtered out. Their seal of approval appears on only a couple of frame brands. At the very least, sunglasses should provide a label with a specific breakdown of the rays they filter out and how much.

Seal Your Lips

Cold sores (Herpes Simplex I) can be triggered by too much sun exposure as well as stress. Protect your lips with sun block, using a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 (see "Skin Sense" below for details). Prescription medications such as Zovirax T can be used to prevent or treat a cold sore outbreak.

Skin Sense

Protecting your skin from ultraviolet light exposure should be considered year-round, not just during the summer when the highest rates of skin cancer occur. You can burn even on overcast days because UVA rays are still coming through. Sunscreens labeled with an SPF number can decrease your chances of developing skin cancer, sunburns, and sun poisoning. The SPF number tells the relative length of time one can stay in the sun before burning vs. using no sunscreen at all. (For example, an SPF of 8 would allow you to remain in the sun 8 times longer without burning on average than if you didn't use any.)

SPF pertains only to UVB rays, those mainly responsible for sunburn and skin cancer. However, SPF products which contain chemical compounds called dibenzoylmethanes, offer the fullest protection against UVA rays (the rays which damage skin leading to premature aging as well as have a causative role in skin cancer) and UVB rays.

Sunscreens should be applied to all exposed areas 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and reapplied after swimming, prolonged perspiration, and after two hours of continuous skin exposure. Waterproof sunscreens provide the best protection. SPF 30 should be used on individuals who have continual outdoor exposure and SPF 15 for routine use on exposed skin areas.

SPF Guidelines for Sun Catchers

  • Skin type I (always burns easily, never tans) Recommended SPF of at least 15
  • Skin type II (always burns easily, tans minimally) Recommended SPF of at least 15
  • Skin type III (burns moderately, tans gradually) Recommended SPF of at least 15
  • Skin Type IV (burns minimally, always tans well) Recommended SPF 6-10
  • Skin Type V (rarely burns, tans profusely) Recommended SPF 4-6
  • Skin Type VI (never burns, deeply pigmented) Doesn't routinely require an SPF

*SPF of 15 or higher should be used by patients with a history of skin cancer or photosensitivity disease.

Water

Never underestimate the therapeutic properties of this liquid that we take for granted. Whether you are gardening, sunbathing, or running, always keep yourself well-hydrated with water. Don't wait until thirst sets in to have a glass. The minimum a person should have on any given day is eight 8 ounce glasses, and in times of heavy exercise or sun exposure that number should be increased to meet your needs.

If you have questions about sun safety and products for your days in the sun, call the University Health Center Pharmacy at 706-542-8627.