By: Levi Opsatnic
As the days get longer and the sun’s rays get brighter, it’s finally time to get outside and enjoy one of the best times of the year. While the summer affords some ideal weather for getting outside, it does come with one drawback: the sun and its harmful ultraviolet rays. But just because the sun can have some negative effects, it doesn’t mean that you should forego your outdoor plans entirely, rather, like most things, proper preparation will have you making the most of any sunny day, whether it’s at a beach or thousands of feet above sea level.
During a flight from Florida back to Pennsylvania, I was seated next to an esthetician. Upon finding this out, I immediately asked her “so, are there any inside skincare secrets?” I don’t think I had enough time to blink before she quickly blurted out “always protect your skin from the sun.” I sort of expected the conversation to shift more towards what moisturizer to use, or a facewash that works magic, but instead, I was warned of the sun’s danger, which is a good thing considering the amount of time I spend outside. So I then explained that I never really get sunburnt and rather just turn a “tan” color,” so I never really do much to repel the UV rays. I was quickly corrected and told that “sun protection is something that everyone needs to worry about, yet it seems that only those of us who burn and turn red do.” As the conversation died down, I kept this thought at the top of my mind.
After getting home, I researched the harm of UV exposure, both short and long-term. According to the American Cancer Society, there are three types of UV rays:
UVA rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers. Most tanning beds give off large amounts of UVA, which has been found to increase skin cancer risk.
UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage skin cells’ DNA directly, and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
UVC rays have more energy than the other types of UV rays, but they don’t get through our atmosphere and are not in sunlight. They are not normally a cause of skin cancer.
As shown by the list above, pretty much all types of UV rays come with harmful side effects. While not all rays create the same problem(s), the most common repercussions to UV exposure are damage to your eyes, sunburn, weakening of the immune system, premature aging of the skin, and in the worst case, skin cancer. Although some of those effects might seem worse than others, UV protection is not something to overlook, especially if you spend a lot of time under the sun. Luckily for all of us, we have a couple convenient options for blocking those rays: UPF (ultraviolet protection factor)–rated clothing, sunscreen, and good ol’ fashion shade.
UV protective clothing: after testing a few methods, I think that this is my preferred way to block the rays. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “don’t all clothes block the sun?” Well, yes, that’s true, but some clothing certainly does a better job at this, and most clothing that sports a UPF rating between 15 and 50+ (the highest rating) have their rating clearly indicated by the manufacturer, so it’s easy to fine-tune your shopping to meet your skin’s demands. The UPF rating given to these articles of clothing is based off of the fabric’s ability to defend against UVA and UVB light and is proportional to the fraction of UV radiation that the garment allows to penetrate. For example, a shirt that’s rated with a UPF rating of 15 will allow 1/15th of the available UV radiation to penetrate. So what makes one piece of clothing have a lower or higher rating? It really depends on the fabric and the weave. Some fabrics, such as polyester, inherently block more rays; however, the weave of the fabric also plays a large role in defense. Something like a standard cotton t-shirt has a looser weave and sports a UPF rating of about 5, where a tightly-woven polyester shirt can easily have a 50+ rating. A lot of this sun-protective clothing tends to be long-sleeved, but don’t let that deter you, as these shirts are generally quite breathable and often have features that manage your body’s moisture too. Also, don’t let your UV protection end at your torso because a hat is a very integral accessory for sun protection. Large brim hats provide some of the best sun protection on the market, and my personal favorite hat for sunny days is Tilley’s LTM6.
Another thing to consider when choosing UV protective clothing over sunscreen is that you don’t need to rub anything on your body and it offers a considerably lower impact to the environment than non-natural sunscreens.
If you’re looking for a shirt to block the sun, here’s an option for men: Under Armour Sunblock Hoodie
And here’s an option for women: Royal Robbins Expedition Stretch 4/3 Sleeve Shirt
Sunscreen: this is probably the most obvious choice and it’s been effectively used for years. Most sunscreens operate pretty similarly in that they have ingredients that work to reflect, scatter, or even absorb the sun’s rays. Much like the UPF rating attributed to sun protective clothing, sunscreen get its own rating, the SPF (sun protection factor) system, and it follows the same principle of a higher number signifying a better sun protection. However, unlike the UPF rating, SPF’s rating is based only off of its ability to block UVB rays. All sunscreens that have an SPF rating offer a degree of sun protection, but there are other things to consider when choosing the right sunblock. For me, the largest concern is choosing a natural product that doesn’t negatively affect the environment. This is something to be especially conscious of if you’re visiting a body of water. Simply put, if you’re wearing sunblock and are in the water, non-natural ingredients are quick to seep into the water and cause a litany of negative side effects, so much so that some areas are banning their use in their waterways. If you’re wondering what ingredients to dodge, the most harmful are benzophenone-2, zinc and titanium oxide, oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor; some of those ingredients don’t ever biodegrade and others destroy important ocean ecosystems, so it’s really best to avoid them at all costs.
Shade: I’ll start by saying that shade is by no means a sure-fire way to prevent UV exposure, but it is worth mentioning that areas that offer some sort of cover, whether it’s an awning or a thick canopy of trees, will make for less UV exposure. Whenever you’re planning trips that include this type of shade, you can factor that into your decision of how you’ll block the sun.
Whether you choose to wear or apply your sun protection, it’s always a great idea to incorporate some sort of UV protection into your sunny adventures, and with proper planning, it’s as easy as can be to enjoy your time under the sun without suffering its negative effects.