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Tips to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays

GEHA | June 18, 2019

Make sure you're taking all the right steps to lower your risk for skin cancer.

During the summer months, many of us spend more time outdoors. So let’s review how to protect ourselves and lower our risk for skin cancer.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays causes most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. You still need protection even if it’s cool and cloudy.

Tips to protect yourself

Shade. Seek shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter. Avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight too long, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is strongest. If you’re unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are the strongest. You can still get a burn if you’re in the water or the temperature is cool.

Clothes. Wear a lightweight long-sleeved shirt or cover-up. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. Remember to protect your head. A hat with a wide brim will protect your face, head, ears and neck. If you wear a baseball cap, also protect your ears and the back of your neck with a large handkerchief or bandana tucked under the cap, or wear a shade cap.

Sunglasses. Sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. They should have the “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” label. Research shows that long hours in the sun without eye protection increases your chances of developing certain eye diseases.

Sunscreen. Sunscreen is a filter; it does not block all UV rays. Use one with broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and with a sun protection factor (SPF) value of 30 or higher. The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. A higher SPF number means more UVB protection. It does not mean you can stay out in the sun longer, use less sunscreen or apply it less often. Sunscreens may claim to be “water resistant” but they must state whether they protect the skin for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating. It’s important to remember to reapply sunscreen generously and frequently.

Tanning beds and sun lamps. If you opt for tanning beds, remember that tanning lamps give out UVA and usually UVB rays. Both rays can cause long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer. Tanning-bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it is started before a person is 30.

“Skin Cancer Awareness.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last reviewed 18 April 2023.
“Sun Safety.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last reviewed 18 April 2023.