Ah, lobster: delightful to eat slathered in butter… not-so-delightful to eat slathered in aloe vera from head-to-toe because you forgot your Banana Boat at home again. Although color-matching your dinner might very well be the apotheosis of insult added to injury, there are other reasons to steer clear of the midday sun.
Of course, there’s a lot to love about our friendly neighborhood star. It brings us warmth, is perfect for shadow puppets, and helps our fruits and vegetables grow. But there’s more to sunlight than meets the eye…
Quite literally, actually!
The composition of sunlight lies along a spectrum. There’s the visible range (the light we can see), infrared radiation, and ultraviolet light. When you hear talk of harmful UVA and UVB rays, that’s the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Luckily, Earth’s atmosphere filters out much of the sun’s UV output. Without it, we’d all be toast. But enough of these rays still get through to do damage. Overexposure to UV is what causes tanning, sunburns, and cataracts — and puts us all at risk of developing skin cancer.
Like the sunlight’s composition, our individual cancer risk lies along a spectrum: the less melanin one has (the lighter your skin), the higher the risk; the more melanin one has (the darker your skin), the lower your risk. The reason is that this melanin absorbs UV light and dissipates it as heat, acting in a sense like a natural sunscreen. Meaning, the darker your skin-tone is naturally, the greater your skin’s defenses against the sun’s most harmful rays. Don’t be fooled, though: no matter your skin-tone, you still need to reach for that bottle of artificial sunscreen. Skin cancer does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, or race: anyone can get it, and 1 in 5 Americans will in their lifetime.
The best way to avoid skin damage (and tanning is damage) is to stay out of the sun all-together, but we all know that’s a tough sell. At the very least, stick to the shade as much as possible. Even more importantly, and avoid being out and about when the sun is at its strongest (between 10 AM and 2 PM). And then there’s the most important one of all… ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN! Always, always, always.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone liberally apply a waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 (or higher) to all exposed skin fifteen minutes before going outside. How much sunscreen counts as “liberally?” For an adult to fully cover their body properly, it’s more than you think: about 1 ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass.
And for the record, “all exposed skin” really does mean all exposed skin. Don’t forget the ears, your neck, the tops of your feet (and the soles of your feet — ouch!), as well as the top of your head. If you’ve never gotten a sunburn along your hair’s part, count your blessings. It is far from pleasant. Of course, no one likes to have a greasy crown, but we’ll hazard a guess that you’ll like having skin cancer quite a lot less. To cap of your coverage, pick up a lip balm with SPF from your local drugstore. Your lips can burn, too.
But wait, it’s cloudy today. That means I’m good to skip the sunblock, right? Wrong! If you think you’re safe because there’s cloud cover, or because it’s cool out, think again. Clouds don’t block UV rays, and sunburns have nothing to do with temperature.
Even when it’s cloudy, you should either wear sunscreen or cover up. Dressing with long sleeves or long pants, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, can keep your skin safe. And don’t skimp on those sunglasses! Your eyes can also get sunburned!
As little as fifteen minutes. That’s how long it can take to damage your skin. The sun, strange as it is, is both our best friend and our worst enemy. It’s what let’s us produce vitamin D naturally, but it also has a dangerous bite. Parents of kiddos, be especially aware!
The best response? Make it a habit to wear SPF every day, especially on your face if you’re the wrinkle-fearing type. If you somehow make it to 87 without looking like a sun baked raisin, you can thank your mom for that. All the times she made you reapply sunscreen after you got out of the ocean, she was looking ahead to your later years.
And let’s be real: keep a bottle of sunscreen in your bag at all times, just to be safe. That way, the next time you get home from the beach, you won’t look into your mirror and scream, “I’ve created a lobster!”
Surviving Summer Should Not Be Hard
Humans have been making it to the fall equinox for millennia untold — and your family can too. It just takes a bit of awareness. Knowing the dangers that come hand-in-hand with the summer months make it that much easier to prevent them. We can never reduce our risk of skin cancer to zero — it’s just not possible. But we can get our kids started off right by reducing their exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays in their early years. The quicker we get that sunscreen slathered on, the quicker we can get back our fun in the sun.
This was the second post in The Howard Blau Law Summer Safety Series. Over the coming weeks we’ll be visiting a variety of topics relevant to your family and loved ones, from the bugs that bother, to the risks of illegal fireworks, to the danger of hot cars — and more!
If you have a topic you’d like us to cover in this series, let us know in the comments or on Facebook.
Stay safe out there, and Happy Summer!
Have a serious injury and need legal advice?
Contact Howard Blau.
Ventura County’s Favorite Law Office
Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun?” Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
“Sun Safety and Protection Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.” American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
“Sunscreen FAQs.” American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
“Summer Safety Tips.” National Safety Council. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
“Make Summer Safe for Kids.” Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved 13 June 2019.