The sun is out and summer is calling. Spending time in the sun has positive effects on your mood, health and overall sense of well-being. However, as most of us know, the sun can damage your skin if you don’t protect it. 

May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is most often caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which penetrates and damages skin cells. 

Here are some tips for protecting your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. 


1. Cover up. 

When you're out in the sun, wear clothing with good coverage and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. 

Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light, which can be found at any retail store. Wearing a hat and sunglasses will also help protect your face, eyes, head, ears and neck. And don't hang around in wet clothes. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one.


2. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Yes, even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need sunscreen. It’s not the temperature outside, but the UV rays from the sun that cause skin damage. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside and reapply at least every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating. 

Keep in mind that “water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” Over time, sunscreen will wash off if you sweat or spend time in the water. Also, remember that some products include an expiration date. Discard any sunscreen that is past this date.


3. Stay away from tanning beds and sunlamps. 

Tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside, whether sunburn or suntan, indicates damage from UV rays. And the sun isn’t the only culprit – exposure to both natural and “artificial” sunlight from tanning beds can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer. People who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of getting melanoma. 


4. Don’t burn!

Just one severe, blistering sunburn increases your risk of melanoma. When the sun’s UV rays are strongest, they can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes, yet it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure. Always wear sunscreen and try to limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. Plan to exercise or spend time outside early in the morning or later in the evening.


All source information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Visit the QualChoice website for more health and fitness tips.