Sunlight is good. It makes plants grow. We also need brief exposure to it to make vitamin D.
But prolonged and frequent exposure to sunlight can cause damage to the skin and eyes, can suppress the immune system and can lead to skin cancer.
Precautions for exposure should be taken, especially for children.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays that are a part of sunlight harms our skin. UVA (long wave rays) can cause skin wrinkling and cancer.
UVB (short wave rays) can cause sunburns, cataracts, effect the immune system and cause cancer (especially melanoma).
Melanin is the dark pigment that our body makes to help defend our skin against sun exposure.
Even those with a lot of melanin can still have bad effects from UV rays.
Children who have fair hair and skin, blue or green eyes, lots of moles (or who have parents with them) and a family history of skin cancer are in even more danger from sun exposure.
In the U.S., the summer months are when the UV rays are the strongest. They are also stronger the farther south one goes.
It is best to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest.
Even on cloudy days, the skin can still be affected by the sun.
Covering up can reduce UV exposure. Garments worn should not be see-through.
Hats with brims and sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection should be worn.
Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before sun exposure so that its active ingredients can bond with the skin.
An SPF of 30 or higher is recommended. Any sunscreen should block both UVA and UVB rays.
Infants should be kept in the shade, but it is safe to apply sunscreen to children 6 months of age or even younger.
Reapply sunscreen as directed, especially after swimming or sweating. Lip balms with sunblock in them are also recommended.
Sunburns are unpleasant, but they can be treated with cool baths and compresses, aloe gel, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and 1% hydrocortisone cream.
For more severe burns, consult a healthcare provider.
Most of an average person’s lifetime sun exposure happens in childhood.
Severe sunburns before age 20 can increase the risk for melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer. Avoiding this is very important.