In a prior post we discussed the premature skin changes that the sun’s radiation can cause, and the need for establishing a skin care regimen incorporating the use of sunblocks. What, however, are the best ways to protect one’s skin from the sun?
In order to answer this, it’s best to understand how sunlight can harm us. The sun emits radiation towards the earth in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays. It emits three main types:
- UV-A – The longest wavelength, UV-A radiation is responsible for Aging us, with wrinkle development. It accounts for 95% of the UV radiation reaching Earth, and is found in consistent amounts throughout the year. It can penetrate windows, windowshields, and shallow water, and is the radiation type used in tanning beds.
- UV-B – A shorter wavelength, UV-B radiation is responsible for Burning our skin. UV-B radiation is more seasonal, with higher levels in the Spring and Summer, between the hours of 10am-4pm. UV-B rays do not significantly penetrate glass.
- UV-C – The shortest wavelength, most of this radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer and never reaches the earth.
What can we do to protect ourselves then?
- Avoidance – Though 100% is impossible, and discouraged, avoiding direct sunlight during times of intense sun exposure is advisable. If outside, seek shelter in shaded areas.
- Clothing – There is now special clothing that can repel UV radiation, but for most clothing, it is advisable to have loose fitting, full coverage, tightly woven articles in bright colored, or dark colored colors, as these reflect more UV radiation. Don’t forget hats to protect your scalp, and UV-blocking sunglasses for your eyes.
- Glass Films – With the long commutes in Atlanta, UV-protective films can be applied to car windows (as well as house/business windows) to limit UV exposure, while still letting in sufficient light.
- Sunscreens/Sunblocks – These compounds can serve as either a physical barrier to UV radiation, reflecting it from the skin, or can absorb the radiation before it has an opportunity to penetrate the skin.
What about our need for Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is the only vitamin produced by the body, with its building blocks stored in our fat, and its active form produced when our skin is exposed to the sun’s UV-B radiation. Its active form then helps us absorb and use calcium for strong bones, muscle development, and many other important body activities.
There is large debate as to the amount of sun exposure needed to meet our Vitamin D requirement, but the National Institutes of Health recommends 5-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure between the hours of 10am and 3pm, 2-3 days a week. The rest of the time we should be protecting ourselves from the sun’s rays.
As an Emory, Harvard, and University of Pittsburgh-trained, board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Nelson Castillo can help you protect yourself from the rays of the sun, so that you can enjoy its positive invigorating effects, while minimizing many of its consequences.
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