"Helios the Sun God rides his chariot, he shines upon men and deathless gods, and piercingly he gazes with his eyes from his golden helmet."

— Homer's Hymn 31 to Helios (Greek epic 7th - 4th B.C.)

Gone are the days of baking in the sun, using baby oil and other products to promote the "sun-kissed healthy glow" of the skin.

Most people know that, as wonderful and necessary as the sun is to our life on the planet, it comes with precautions.

Everyone loves to soak up the sun's rays, but doing so without protection can put one in harm's way due to ultraviolet light exposure.

The skin is the body's largest organ and protects it by providing a barrier from the outside environment. The skin we have is a product of our genetics (color, ability to tan, and predilection for skin cancers) and the result of our actions (usage of harsh chemicals, environmental toxins, skin care regimens, and sun exposure history). The sun gives off a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, ranging from infrared light to high energy gamma rays. Only a portion of this broad spectrum reaches the earth's surface.

Ultraviolet light is divided into 3 types based on wavelength; UVC (200-290 nm) is blocked by the atmospheric ozone layer. UVB (290-320nm) is linked mainly to sunburns and skin cancer, its intensity varies seasonally and also on the time of day. UVA (320-400 nm) light is also associated with skin cancer in addition to photo aging. This wavelength remains steady throughout the year without the seasonal variation. Thus, it is important to protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.

This does not mean that people should hide from all sun exposure, but rather be intelligent about it. Simple changes such as avoiding outdoor activities during peak sun irradiation hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and using protective clothing provide some degree of protection. Also, be aware that reflective surfaces such as concrete, water, snow, sand, high altitudes and low latitudes amplify the UV exposure, and this applies even on cloudy days. Windows without UV-absorbing film also pose a risk, even if just sitting near a window or driving to work.

One of the easiest things we can do is to use sunscreen daily to protect ourselves. That being said, it is not easy to choose the right sunscreen which has both high SPF and UVA and UVB protection.

Sun Protection Factor is used to designate protection from UVB, and the level tends to plateau around an SPF of 30. Sunscreens containing oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, dioxybenzone, meradimate, avobenzone (Parson 1789), or tetraphthalydine dicamphor sulfonic acid provide protection against UVA. For protection against UVB, the sunscreen must contain either padimate O, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, cinoxate, homosalate, trolamine, salicylate, or ensulizole. Broad spectrum coverage of both UVA and UVB is seen in zinc oxide or titanium dioxide containing formulations. Many of us remember these as the white chalky stuff lifeguards wore, but now newer micronized formulas with tint make this a more aesthetically pleasing option.

Lastly, sunscreen application also matters. About 2 tablespoons or 30ml is required for full body coverage, while 3-5 grams for head and neck is required. Make sure to protect the commonly forgotten areas such as ears, scalp areas with thin hair, anterior and nape of neck, lower lip, anterior chest, arms and hands.

After daily application, allow 15-30 minutes for sunscreen to set before sun exposure or makeup application. When applying sunscreen, dispense the appropriate amount on back of hand and using one or two fingers distribute the product over the intended surface before spreading evenly. Rubbing the sunscreen between the palms of the hands prior to application cases most of the product to end up in the palmar ridges and creases instead of the intended surface. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, and remember sunscreen is contraindicated in infants six months of age or younger. Check with your doctor to make sure that you are not allergic to any component(s) of the sunscreen before applying.

So, enjoy the summer and all of its activities, but be smart about protecting your skin. Choose and use appropriate clothing, sunscreens, hats, and eyewear. After all, the distance between you and the rest of the world is only skin deep.

For more information please visit the following websites:

American Academy of Dermatology – www.aad.org

National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention –www.skincancerprevention.org

American Cancer Society – www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute – www.cancer.gov

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