We do not always remember to put on sunscreen when we go skiing, surfing, or playing in the sun. Even if we do, is SPF enough to keep the skin safe from sunburns? Sunburn is painful. The sight of it is not pretty as well. Also, sunburns put you at risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
Even though you consider yourself a vitamin D junkie, you need to enjoy the sun from a safe distance. There are so many ways to tan without burning the skin. This is why the UV index is very important. You also need to know the right SPF brand to use.
The UV index helps you determine how quickly your skin burns without protection when you are in the sun.
What Is UV Index?
The ultraviolet index is a scale that depicts the UV radiation’s intensity. It was created in the 1990s by Canadian scientists. Since then, it has been used all over the world as the standard. Also, the UV index has recommendations on actions to take like wearing a hat or sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S National Weather Service measure UV levels daily. The results are used to create exposure forecasts each day.
People with fair skin can tan but are also prone to sunburn. These people need to apply caution. Others with darker skin may have more tolerance for exposure. In other cases, reflections off water, snow, and white sand double UV strength.
The Shadow Rule
EPA has a shadow rule that estimates how much ultraviolet radiation a person is being exposed to.
The easiest way to follow this shadow rule is to seek shade when you have a short shadow. If the shadow is shorter than you when you look at it, you should limit your exposure to the sun.
The shadow rule allows you to check the sun’s altitude. Your shadow may be shorter between the late morning and early evening. During this time, the ultraviolet rays may likely cause sunburn.
One good thing about the shadow rule is the simplicity. It is easy to follow. One study revealed that kids around ten years could judge the length of their shadow 92 percent of the time. They could always tell when the shadow was shorter than their height. This is important because research shows that continuous sunburn during childhood can lead to higher cancer rates in the future.
Why Do People Tan?
Being exposed to ultraviolet radiation increases the melanin in the skin. The UVA radiation also triggers a release of melanin in the skin. UVB radiation, on the other hand, stimulates the body to melanin. This results in sun-tanned skin.
Both kinds of ultraviolet radiation can be found in the rays of the sun. To get a suntan, ultraviolet radiation must be high enough to change the melanin levels of the skin without burning it.
Tips to Tan Safely
There are ways to tan safely and prevent skin damage. The World Health Organization recommends the following for safe tanning:
- Reduce the amount of time spent outside from 10 am to 4 pm. Find out the best time to tan.
- Watch out for the sunlight intensity or the UV index.
- Use a shade. Trees and umbrellas do not protect the skin completely so don’t bank on them.
- Wear protective clothing such as tightly woven and loose-fitted clothing. Sometimes, good-quality glasses may come in handy. A wide-brimmed hat can also work better to shield you from direct sunlight.
- Avoid tanning parlors and sunlamps
- Use sunscreen. Ensure that you cover the exposed parts of the skin with a thick layer of sunscreen. Always reapply the sunscreen after some time because it may wear off.
- Remember the shadow rule. Always watch your shadow to determine if you are being sunburned as explained above.
- Stay hydrated. You may need to drink water as often as possible.
- Check the ingredients in your body cream. Some ingredients are harmful to the skin. Substances like Octinoxate and Oxybenzone are banned in some countries because of their damaging effects on the skin. Look out for such ingredients and avoid them as much as possible. If you want to control the ingredients that go on your skin you can make your own tanning oil.
What is a Good UV Index for Tanning?
Remember that in practice, there is no good UV index for tanning. A healthy tan doesn’t exist according to the NHS.
This means that spending a lot of time under direct sunlight is not safe no matter the ultraviolet index value because it can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Here is a short guide to explain the precautions to be taken based on the ultraviolet index:
UV index 0 – 2
This is a low exposure level that averagely takes 60 minutes to burn. In such cases, the recommended action is SPF 30 sunscreen along with sunglasses.
UV Index 3 – 5
This is a moderate level of exposure, and it takes around 45 minutes to burn. The recommended action for this is using a hat, SPF 30 sunscreen continuously every 2 hours, and seeking shade between 10 am and 4 pm.
UV Index 6 – 7
This is a high exposure level. On average, it takes just 30 minutes to burn. It is recommended that you wear a wide-brimmed hat, reapply SPF 30 after 2 hours, wear sunglasses and stay under a shade from 10 am to 4 pm. It is also ideal to wear pants and long sleeves if it is comfortable for you.
UV Index 8 – 10
This is an extra high-level exposure. The average burn time is 15 – 25 minutes. The recommended actions to take include limiting outdoor time, using SPF30 sunscreen after every two hours, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, seeking shade from 10 am to 4 pm, sunglasses, and long sleeve shirts and pants.
UV Index 11+
This exposure level is extreme and can burn the skin within ten minutes. Experts recommend using sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, staying under shade from 10 am to 4 pm. Also, using SPF30 sunscreen at 2-hour intervals will help. Outdoor time should be limited as well.
When is Ultraviolet Radiation at its Highest?
Between 10 am to 3 pm, UV radiation is highest. It is mostly during summer or days without clouds. Some countries broadcast the UV index per day with the weather report. This doesn’t mean that a scorching sunny day should be ideal for a tan.
On days like these, short exposure may cause sunburn depending on the skin type. If you want to tan on such days, a stronger sunscreen would be ideal. It can give your body some protection from ultraviolet radiation. Even though the day is not bright, you should always use sunscreen.
Are UV Rays Dangerous?
Ultraviolet radiation includes three ranges, and it depends on wavelength. The first is UVA. It is the longest wavelength and penetrates the skin causing aging. This UV will not tan your skin and can penetrate glass. So, wear sunscreen even though you are inside your home.
UVB is the second with medium wavelength, and it stimulates melanocyte residing in the skin. The melanocytes are mainly responsible for melanin production in the skin. This can also mutate and become cancerous if they are overstimulated. Sunburns are also caused by UVB rays.
The last is the UVC rays. They are the shortest wavelength and are easily absorbed by the atmosphere.
People with lower skin phototypes are more familiar with sunburn symptoms which may include itchiness, redness, skin peeling, and blisters. Do not ignore the risks. Constant sunbathing exposes you to hyperpigmentation as well as skin aging. Long-term exposure can also lead to skin cancer.
What is a Skin Phototype?
The skin is naturally sensitive to sun rays depending on the pigmentation levels. This means that it is related to the color of the skin. Below are the phototypes:
- Type I – extremely pale skin that doesn’t tan and always burns
- Type II – fair skin that tans lightly and burns easily
- Type III – medium skin that tans after a slight burn
- Type IV light brown skins that tan easily and burns mildly
- Type V – dark brown skin that tans darkly and rarely burns
- Type VI – black skin that darkens but never burns
What Parts of the Skin Need Protection from the Sun?
When you choose to tan, ensure that you put on protective coverings on sensitive areas like your lips, eyes, and scalp. A protective lip balm that contains sunscreen, eyeglasses, and other hair styling products with SPF 30 protection can help.
To reach tough spots like your scalp, use a sunscreen spray bottle. Also, reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours to protect the skin.
Can Sun Damage Be Reversed?
Some signs of sun damage on the skin are reversible. Others can be improved by using professional skin treatments. What are some ways to identify sun damage and the treatments to make them better?
Dark Spots and Pigmentation
Pigmentation is mainly caused by excess production of melanin. It is also a popular side effect of tanning and sun exposure. Exfoliation treatments can reduce the appearance of pigmentation. It strips away surface layers. Laser resurfacing, skin peels, and microdermabrasion are also effective in removing the excess melanin and getting rid of a tan.
Tanning can deplete the natural collagen in the skin. It makes it wrinkled. A skin peel may help rejuvenate dull-looking skin. It also stimulates collagen production and new cell turnover. Also, an excellent treatment option is micro-needling. It harnesses the skin’s healing process for smoother, plumper, and younger-looking skin.
As time passes, sun exposure can cause wrinkles that don’t go away easily. Dermal fillers and anti-aging injectables may come in handy to smoothen the out.
Sun-damaged skin often has visible capillaries or spider veins or thread veins. This isn’t something to worry too much about because it can be reduced by using laser treatments.
An excellent way to reverse signs of aging from sun exposure is to care for the skin. Exfoliation helps the skin to create new skin cells. It also stimulates the production of collagen. This can in turn target wrinkles and fine lines.
Sunburn can have adverse effects on the skin. If you want to tan safely, you need to know the right UV index for tanning. Note that skin color matters in this process as some skins are more prone to sunburn than others. The long-term effects of sunburn include the risk of developing melanoma, fine lines, thread veins, deep-set wrinkles, and more. Care for your skin by using sunscreen with SPF30+ when necessary.
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About Michelle Williams
Michelle puts her Master’s in English from NYU to work each day in her job with a small indie publisher. She’s created a prolific amount of content for a variety of self-help, beauty, tech, and business websites. Michelle has also ghostwritten two autobiographies and contributed to Shape, The Gentlewoman, and Slake magazines.