Sun Exposure: Fact vs. Fiction

Unless you’re a vampire, you’ve been out and exposed to the sun before. Chances are, you’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether it’s good or bad to be outside while the sun is shining. Let’s break down the facts and fiction of sun exposure!

“The sun can cause skin cancer.”   – Fact

The sun is a glowing radiation factory, giving off three categories of ultraviolet light: UVC, UVB and UVA. In the case of the UVC radiation, it is of no consequence to the skin because it is absorbed by the ozone layer before reaching the earth. However, the other two forms of ultraviolet radiation DO affect humans, mainly in the skin. The radiation changes the make-up of your skin cells down to the very DNA. When too much damage occurs, it can sometimes cause skin cells to grow and reproduce rapidly and this can lead to cancerous tumors. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer found today, and many doctors believe that limiting over-exposure to the sun can help prevent it. Both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers can be invasive. As well as growing across the surface of the skin, tumors can sometimes grow down through the layers of skin. If the tumor grows through the wall of a blood or lymph vessel, cancer cells can break off and spread to other parts of the body. This is why skin cancer is usually easier to treat successfully when it is caught at an early stage.

“Catching some rays is GOOD for you!” – Fact

Let’s emphasize the “some” in that sentence. Sunshine isn’t all bad, but moderation and protection are the keys. If you don’t get enough sunshine in your life, you can potentially get what is known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.  When exposed to less-than-usual sunlight (like during the winter months when sunlight is more scarce) your body produces more melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.  Your brain also begins producing lower levels of serotonin — the neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, sleep, and sexual desire. Simply put, SAD can make you feel sad. Catching a few rays can lift your spirits.

Your body also absorbs vitamin D from the sun. The sun isn’t the only place you can get vitamin D, though. Many foods are manufactured to be fortified with Vitamin D.

But don’t spend all day in direct sunlight! Wear protective clothing as well as head and eye wear if you can, and definitely put on sunscreen before stepping outdoors.

“You won’t get sunburn if you wear sunscreen.”   – Fiction

Slapping on a little sunscreen in the morning is not a magic cure to protect you all day from sun exposure. Be sure to look at the SPF number on your sunscreen. The larger the SPF number, the greater the amount of protection. Everyone should use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. If you have had  skin cancer or pre-cancer, you should use a sunscreen with an even higher SPF. Many of the new sunscreens have SPFs of 30, 45, or even higher. Sunburn is the most common problem associated with too much sun exposure. But it’s not just annoying and uncomfortable, sun burn is the result of deep cellular damage to your skin cells.  Over time, this damage becomes noticeable in other ways. It can give the skin a “leathery” look. It’s more wrinkly, flakey, and discolored that healthy skin. It is also weakened and will bruise more easily, even though it appears to be thicker. Sunscreen wears off, especially in water. So re-apply throughout the day!

“If you avoid the mid-day sun, you’ll be okay.” – Fiction

While it’s true that the UV rays that damage your skin are most powerful between 10am to 3pm, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get sunburn and skin damage earlier or later in the day. Even if you’re only going to be outside for an hour or two in the morning or just before sunset, wear that sunscreen!

“You can get the same skin damage from tanning beds that you can from the sun.” – Fact

Tanning beds work by producing the same UV Rays that the sun does. It is not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors and you need to take the same precautions when using a tanning bed that you would if you were laying around outside.

“Airbrush tanning is a safe alternative to tanning beds or laying out in the sun.” – Fact

Airbrush tanning uses an all natural compound called DHA. DHA isn’t a dye, paint, or stain. It’s actually a non-toxic, organic compound that creates a chemical reaction with the amino acids in the outermost layer of your skin.  This reaction does not involve the underlying skin pigmentation, nor does it require exposure to ultraviolet light to initiate the change in color. DHA is approved by the FDA, and does not carry the serious risks that tanning outdoors or using a tanning bed does. It is a vegan, organic, and safe alternative to laying out in the sun or using a tanning bed.

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