You may not realize this, but this week is the most dangerous week of the year for your skin. With the sun high in the sky, ultraviolet light is intense. And unless you live in Florida or Arizona, your skin is at its lightest color because your melanin, the brown protective pigment in your skin, is at its lowest level right now. And that means you will absolutely fry in the sun this weekend if you don’t use protection. The first sunny days of the season are always the worst for sunburn, because that intense sun often takes you by surprise. And as you sit inside nursing your sunburn that evening, you will swear you won’t do that again.
Small doses of sunshine are great for you – vitamin D levels increase and that light is a natural mood elevator. But more than 20 minutes of ultraviolet light is actually harmful. UV light causes skin cancer and prematurely ages the skin. Beyond 20 minutes and your immune system actually gets suppressed. So, everyone needs to apply sunscreen if you’re exposed to the sun for more than 20 minutes. Melanin is your body’s own sunscreen. The darker your skin color, the more you have. The lighter your skin, the more important sunscreen is. Even if you have very dark skin, your own SPF level is only 16 and so you still need sunscreen.
Starting this week, I recommend everyone wear sunscreen on all sun-exposed skin. An SPF 15 with ultraviolet A coverage is just fine for daily use. But if you go to the beach or play sports or garden for more than a half an hour, use an SPF 30. Make sure the sunscreen has UVA coverage, because the SPF level on the label only refers to UVB. And the sun’s rays contain both UVA and UVB, and both of those are dangerous. Don’t forget lip balm with sunscreen, a hat to protect your scalp, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
You can find out how strong the UV light is in your neighborhood today by checking out the government’s UV index website: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html
What type of sunscreen should you use? A lot of controversy here, but I recommend zinc oxide as the sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB and does not get absorbed into your body.