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With another famously hot Columbia summer in full swing, taking care of your skin is more important than ever.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are strongest during this time of year and excessive exposure to these harmful rays can be damaging to the skin—resulting in sunburn, premature aging or skin cancer.

“We all look forward to having a little fun in the sun, but failure to protect your skin when you’re outdoors can be painful and dangerous,” Kimberly Frick said, family nurse practitioner at Prisma Health Family Medicine–Parkridge in Columbia. “Our skin is our largest organ, and it shields us from a number of harmful elements. Keeping it properly hydrated and protected is critical to leading a healthy life.”

The best way to stay safe from the sun is to stay indoors, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest, but knowing that option will not appeal to most people, Prisma Health experts offer the following tips for skin protection.

Wear protective clothing, like a wide brimmed hat to protect your face, neck and ears. If you’ll be directly exposed to the sun for a long period of time, consider covering your arms and legs with loose fitting clothing despite the heat. And don’t forget your sunglasses: choose a pair that blocks 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. 

Always use sunscreen. The American Cancer Society recommends broad spectrum products with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied on all exposed areas of your body at least 20 minutes before going outside. This includes your ears, the back of your neck, feet and the top of your head if you do not have hair for protection. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially if swimming or toweling off frequently. Doctors at Prisma Health emphasize that despite advertising claims, there is no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen.

Seek shade whenever possible. While trees and canopies do not provide complete protection from the sun, they do lessen your exposure. An umbrella can also provide protection while allowing you to enjoy the warm temperatures.

Don’t forget to protect your child’s skin, too. When choosing sunscreen for your little ones, look for products containing a physical blocker like zinc oxide. This includes babies, who have smaller amounts of melanin than older children and adults and can burn quicker. If your child has light colored or thin hair, be sure to apply sunscreen to that area as well and incorporate hats into their daily routine.

Be aware of the risks of tanning. Sunless tanning creams are much safer than tanning beds.

Short term overexposure to the sun could result in sunburn whereas prolonged overexposure could lead to premature aging, blinding eye diseases or skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and typically forms on the areas of the body that are most exposed to UV radiation.

“Unlike many forms of cancer, skin cancer is preventable,” said Dr. Jeremiah Miller, a dermatologist with Prisma Health. “Overexposure to UV rays, whether purposely through tanning or from failure to protect your skin, is the number one cause of skin cancer and something that is avoidable. Cover up when you go outdoors and never skip sunscreen. If at any time you find any new markings, sores or moles on your skin, make an appointment with your doctor.”

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