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Summer  weather means longer days and for most of us, more time spent outdoors at work or play.  Science has shown that sunlight has more benefits than just a healthy tan.  But exposure to sun, wind and other harsh summer elements can be harmful to your skin, causing premature aging and even skin cancer.  If you know the facts and are smart about the time you spend outdoors there’s no reason you can’t have your fun in the sun all summer long AND still look great years from now.


Sunlight contains Ultraviolet (UV) rays which have a number of effects on the human body, both good and bad.  UV rays are powerful and penetrate deep into skin and even through clothing.  In some ways, sunlight makes us healthier and happier.  They stimulate the production of vitamin D, which is essential to building healthy bones, muscles and immune systems.  UV has been used to treat certain skin disorders like psoriasis.  And some research has suggested that UV may also stimulate the pineal gland to produce mood-elevating chemicals called tryptamines.

But powerful UV rays are also harmful when we are exposed to them without proper protection.   A summer tan is our body’s way of defending itself against the harmful effects of sunlight and UV.  Our cells produce Melanin, a natural pigment which gives us a tan skin color and acts as a natural defense mechanism against UV rays.  Not everyone produces the same amount of Melanin or at the same rate, which is why some people sunburn faster than others.


UV rays age our skin by destroying collagen and connective tissues beneath the surface.  When this happens, our skin loses its elasticity and tightness.  The results are… wrinkles.  Years of tans or burns can cause melanin to clump together and become a waste product which discolors the skin and produces age spots (also known as liver-spots), large dark areas on the skin that do not fade away like a tan will.

The biggest concern from UV exposure is skin cancer.  The Skin Cancer Foundation ( ) reports that skin cancer is the single-greatest cancer threat Americans face.  More skin cancers are reported every year than breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers combined.  It’s estimated that ninety percent of skin cancers are the result of exposure to the sun, and that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  Scary facts indeed, making UV rays the most common cancer-causing agent we are exposed to.


Only 15 minutes of exposure can result in a sunburn.  Be smart and protect yourself, and the easiest way to do that is by avoiding UV rays entirely.  No, it’s not always possible to stay indoors but it should be obvious that the less time spent in the sun, the less chance of damaging your skin.

Anyone who has had a ‘farmer’s tan’ understands that clothing can be a great form of protection… but only where the skin is covered.  Clothing is the best and first line of defense, offering the greatest sun protection available.  Not all fabrics protect equally, and lighter fabrics allow more UV rays through than heavier fabrics.

Some clothing manufacturers now state a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) number on their wardrobe to indicate how much sun-protection their items offer.  A higher UPF rating indicates the clothing blocks more UV light than a lower UPF rating.  UPF 15 means that 1/15th of UV rays pass through, while a UPF50 rating means only 1/50th of the UV passes through.  The most important way to protect exposed skin is with a good sunscreen.  Applying this alone is not enough… you need to buy the right kind of sunscreen and use it correctly.

This begins by looking at the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number on the label.  SPF numbers range from 2 to 50 (or more) and the higher the number, the better.  Keep in mind that SPF ratings work on a sliding percentage scale and a number like SPF45 is not three times as effective as SPF 15.  SPF45 blocks 98% of UV rays whiles SPF15 blocks 94%.  The difference is not that great, but it does offer longer times of exposure outdoors without burning.

SPF protects only against UV type “B” rays (UVB), those which cause sunburn.  There are also UVA rays which are damaging too.  Look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen which protects against both forms of UV.  It’s important to remember that no sunscreen offers 100% protection.

Sunscreens needs to be absorbed into the skin to work effectively.  This can take up to 20 minutes and the best time to apply is before you head out the door.  If you wait till you hit the beach to put on sunscreen, you may burn before the sunscreen is able to protect you.

Don’t be cheap – put sunscreen on heavily and remember to re-apply every 90 to 120 minutes, as they lose their effectiveness over time.


Not all sunscreens are made the same, so read the ingredients on the label before buying one.  Some sunscreens contain additives that can be harmful or even cancer-causing, like oxybenzone, benzophenone and retinyl palmitate.  The best sunscreens contain zinc oxides and titanium oxides, both of which are natural sun-blocking ingredients.

For more info on Skin Cancer, visit

By Jim Jurica, BeautyLook Editor