Summer sun safety: Three ways to protect your skin

Swimming in the pool, attending a ballgame, or just sitting on your outdoor patio are all enjoyable summer activities. But without appropriate application of sunscreen or other forms of sun protection, you may find yourself walking away with a sunburn.

In the short term, a sunburn can cause pain and blistering. Long term, it can contribute to various skin cancers—like melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell—and photoaging—such as fine lines, wrinkles, and brown spots—and it may worsen conditions, such as melasma or certain autoimmune disorders.

Dermatologist Jessica Harms, MD, shares tips on how to protect your skin from the effects of prolonged sun exposure this summer.

1. What sunscreen should I use and when?

Harms recommends sunscreen with the following labels:

  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Broad-spectrum
  • Water-resistant (if you will be sweating or around water)

SPF stands for sun protection factor. A higher SPF means that it filters out a higher amount of the sun’s rays. SPF 30 filters about 97% of these rays.  No sunscreen filters 100% of the UV light so other methods of sun protection are still important.

Broad-spectrum means that sunscreen protects from both the sun’s UVA rays, which contribute to aging, and the UVB rays which contribute to burning.

You should apply sunscreen to all exposed areas if you plan on being outside for more than 15-30 minutes. Ideally, you should apply sunscreen any time the sun is out, but especially during peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

It may not always be convenient to apply sunscreen over your entire body. In that case, prioritize protecting your face. Many moisturizers or makeup are created with SPF, and can be incorporated into your daily routine. This is a good rule of thumb in winter and summer; rain or sun.

2. How should I apply sunscreen for it to be effective?

First, you must use enough sunscreen to completely cover the area of application. That means, if you’re applying it to your whole body, use at least one ounce of sunscreen—roughly the size of a shot glass. Pay special attention to the following areas, which are often overlooked:

  • Tops of feet
  • Ears
  • Back
  • Scalp

Second, apply sunscreen frequently. Ideally, this means every two hours that you are outside, or immediately after swimming or sweating.

3. In addition to wearing sunscreen, how else can I protect my skin?

Avoid the sun during peak hours. If you are outside, try to seek shade.

Wear sun-protective clothing such as broad-brimmed hats or long-sleeved shirts with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF)—the clothing equivalent of SPF. Many of these items are light, breathable, and comfortable. Plus, you won’t need to worry about applying—and reapplying—sunscreen.