The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer sometime in their lifetime. And according to the American Cancer Society, most skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. So, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from skin cancer is to reduce your family’s UV exposure. Here are four ways to do just that!
What is Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?
Before we jump into solutions, it’s helpful to understand what ultraviolet (UV) radiation is and why it’s harmful.
Ultraviolet radiation is a type of energy produced by the sun. You can’t see it because it has shorter wavelengths than light, but you can feel it. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is made up of three parts: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVC is the most dangerous type, but luckily it is absorbed by our atmosphere and never reaches the earth’s surface.
UVB is the type of radiation that causes sunburns and helps us produce vitamin D. It has short wavelengths and can only penetrate the top layer of our skin but is the main cause of skin cancer.
UVA radiation makes up 95% of the ultraviolet energy that reaches earth. It is the least potent of the three types and is primarily associated with skin aging. UVA has a long wavelength and penetrates deep into the skin. While not a cause for cancer on its own, it does make UVB damage worse.
With that understanding under our belt, here are the best ways to protect yourself and your family from UV exposure.
1. Wear Protective Clothing
The first thing you can do to protect yourself from UV exposure is to wear protective clothing and eyewear when you are out in the sun. Sunglasses, hats with a wide brim, long sleeved shirts and long pants will all help block UV rays. Some other factors to consider:
- Dark or bright colored clothing absorbs UV rays and so protects better than light colored clothing.
- Cotton is a natural UV absorber and shiny fabrics like polyester and satiny silk will reflect more UV than other fabrics.
- Densely woven fabrics and loose clothes protect better than tight, thin, or loosely woven fabrics.
In addition, you can purchase clothing with UV protection built in. Fabrics are rated using UPF or Ultraviolet Protection Factor that is a measure of how much UV radiation a fabric allows to reach your skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “a UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays and allows two percent (1/50th) to penetrate, thus reducing your exposure risk significantly.” Look for the Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation on clothing – it is given to fabrics with a minimum UPF of 30.
2. Use Sunscreen
Your second line of defense is to use sunscreen.
Sunscreens are rated with a Sun Protection Factor or SPF. According to the FDA, “SPF is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin.” The higher the SPF value, the more protection the sunscreen offers from burning.
What type should I use?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone wear a sunscreen that offers:
- Broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays
- An SPF of at least 30
When should I apply?
Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going out into the sun and should be re-applied every 2 hours. If you are swimming or sweating, you should re-apply after these activities.
Be sure to apply enough sunscreen! The American Academy of Dermatologists estimates the average adult needs 1 ounce of sunscreen for full body coverage.
And don’t forget oft forgotten spots like your feet, your ears, the back of your neck and your lips (a lip balm with SPF should be used).
Is sunscreen just for the summer?
Dermatologists agree that sunscreen should be used year-round to protect your skin from damage. And its not just for use on sunny days! You can still burn on overcast days. What’s more, sand, water, and snow all reflect the sun so its important to wear sunscreen in these environments.
And dermatologists are now recommending you wear indoor sunscreen to fully protect yourself from harmful UV rays or if you are at high risk for skin cancer.
3. Stay out of the sun
The third thing you can do to reduce your UV exposure is to stay in the shade. This is particularly important when the sun is the strongest: typically between 10AM and 2PM. If you are outside, use an umbrella, or look for shade under a tree. If you can, stay indoors during these peak hours.
4. Install UV blocking window film
And, because rays from the sun and therefore UV rays can enter your home through your windows, another step you can take to reduce your exposure to UV radiation while indoors is to install Concord’s ComforTech™ Ceramic Series window film. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation recognizes window film as a sun protection product.
All our ComforTech™ shades block >99% of UV rays keeping you and your family safe. It’s an easy window upgrade you can install yourself that will not only protect you from indoor UV damage, but will also help you save energy, reduce fading of floors and furnishings, and decrease glare in your home.