First we are going to explore what exactly is affecting our skin when it's been exposed to the sun. Most of us are familiar with what ultraviolet light is, or at least have a vague understanding of it and the damage it can create when we are out in it for too long a time without sun protection. Let's explore some of the various ways to have fun in the sun without damaging our skin!

Anyone who has had a sunburn at any point in their lives knows that it isn't any fun. But, sunburn is the least of the problems we can face with over-exposure to the sun, as those same ultraviolet rays that can cause a sunburn, can also cause skin cancer from repeated exposure over time. So, we really do ourselves and our skin a big favor when we take a serious look at our own personal sun protection program.

Ideally, sun protection should begin in childhood, especially since a child's skin is delicate. If you have fair-colored skin, you need to be especially wary of the sun, as light skin is much more susceptible to burning. And, never allow a cloudy day fool you ... especially if you are on or near the water ... invisible, ultraviolet rays can be reflected off the surface of the water, even on cloudy days, causing them to be stronger than you may think!

Ultraviolet rays are part of the energy emitted from the sun, and their radiation is what all the concern is about, as they can cause damage to our skin and eyes. They have the capability of penetrating our skin and damaging cells, which can cause sunburn or eye damage, such as cataracts, or worse, macular degeneration, which can result in blindness.

These rays are measured in nanometers (nm), based on their wavelengths and are graded as UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA, which is the lower energy level, has a wavelength of 315 to 400 nm; UVB, 280 to 315 nm; UVC, 100 to 289 nm. The "UV Index" is a grading system for the measurement of strength of the sunís rays for any particular day and location. The intensity of ultraviolet light is stronger at elevations above sea level, as well as locations close to the equator ... a good thing to remember when traveling to areas with a typically high UV Index, if this is unfamiliar to you.

When the UV Index is rated at 6-7, this is considered a high risk for unprotected sun exposure, so sunglasses and a sunscreen with SPF 30+, a wide-brim hat, protective clothing, and reduced time in the sun during strong mid-day sun is advised. If the UV Index is at 9-10, this is considered a very high risk for sunburn, so try to stay out of the sun for extended periods of time. When the risk is considered extreme, a wide-brimmed hat is advised, as well as seeking shade whenever possible. Also, the rays are strongest during peak solar noon hours, so limited time in the sun during those hours can also help. Wearing lightweight clothing with good coverage can offer additional protective benefits.

Although UVA may not cause sunburn, it can deeply penetrate the skin and be indirectly damaging; UVB light directly causes skin damage through radiation, destroying DNA molecules in skin cells, which can result in skin cancer. If you are planning a day in the sun, it's a good idea if you can check the "UV Index" forecast.

Now, let's take a look at some of the ways you protect yourself from receiving too many damaging ultraviolet rays! Sun hats come in a variety of fabrics, shapes, styles, colors, and brim sizes ... although where your sun protection is concerned, it's more important to select a sun hat based on your activity rather than on your clothing. Of course, you would like your hat to compliment your clothes or "go with" your outfit, but beyond that, there are some other considerations to make if you want it to do the job it's intended to do. And, don't be afraid that your hat will mess up your hair ... you can change your hair-do, but you've only got one skin! And, a hat also protects your hair from becoming too brittle or baked in the sun ... tuck it under your hat if you can!

Some of the basics of sun protection are a hat, sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen, and sunglasses with a UV protection rating of 100% for both UVA and UVB. We are going to explore some of the considerations when selecting a sun hat.

First, let's consider the conditions you may encounter while out in the world with your hat ... for instance, if you are going to be on a boat, you will most likely want a hat that fits snuggly and comfortably so it doesn't catch the wind, which secures under the chin so it doesn't blow away.

Or, if you will be taking a hike, you may wish to be wearing a "flap hat" that covers the back of your neck ... the lightweight fabric may also extend to wrap around the front of your face. Also, another important consideration regarding conditions is the question of whether or not there will be a lot of reflected ultraviolet light. Beach sand and sea foam throw bounced-off UV rays, as does snow-covered ground. These types of conditions require some thought when selecting the type of hat to wear, so don't forget about them!

The brim of a hat is what creates the shade on your face, and it's a crucial factor in the amount of ultraviolet light that will or will not reach your face. Commonly recommended is a minimum brim size of 3-inches ... this will protect your forehead, most of the sides of your face, and ears. The middle and lower part of your face will still be exposed, so in strong direct sun, it's a good idea to turn your face away from the sun or stand in the shade, if possible. Remember, reflected UV rays can sneak up on your face from underneath your hat, so don't forget your sunscreen!

A brim size of 4-inches (or more) will offer added protection to your face, so when the UV index scale is high, this is the better choice.

Depending on the time of day, the sun's intensity will change. In the middle of the day, with the sun directly overhead, a 3-inch brim will serve nicely and shade your face, but, for later in the day, a wider brim will continue to offer considerable protection ... the only thing is that it is nearly impossible to wear these on windy days unless they have a chin strap! Sun protection is also important during the winter months ... although it may be cold outside, ultraviolet rays can still be strong.

Beyond brim size, shape and color of the material are also good considerations. For instance, the color of the underside of the brim can make a difference when it comes to dispersed or reflected light. If the underside of your hat is light in color, harmful reflected UV rays may bounce off onto your face ... but, if the underside of the brim is darker in color, it will absorb some of those rays. Ideally, a hat that is light in color on top, with a a darker color underneath will also keep you cooler.

As for shape, hats that bend down and sit closer to your face will help to offer additional protection from both direct and reflected ultraviolet rays.

Fabric is a major consideration, especially when it comes to comfort. Lightweight material in the summer and a heavier, warmer material in the winter are only a start! Some alternatives for warmer months are lightweight cotton, twill, straw, raffia, hemp, breathable nylon and crocheted cotton, to name a few. You will also find that some fabrics are rated for UV protection.
Since we are no longer living in the days of once fashionable parasols, we need to learn how to seek out shady situations that work with our recreation. If we go to an outdoor luncheon, we can select a site under a patio during peak heat, enjoying the sun in the morning or later in the day, or, if we're on a boat with an indoor cabin, we can see if going inside is an option during peak sun; or, if doing nature study, we can hike in the morning hours before the sun is at peak strength and hike back later in the day. Our interests and activities can be quite varied, so it's impossible to illustrate all of the various scenarios, so, just keep "creative sun-dodging" in mind when you are outdoors ... you can still enjoy your day while minimizing sunburn risk. And, in the evening, although you may be tired from the day, you won't have a sunburn to contend with!

Hats offer shade and protection from direct rays, but your skin still requires protection from the indirect rays Ö this, in part, is where sunscreen comes in. There are many types available and they are graded for potency. Be sure to re-apply it throughout the course of the day, especially if you have been swimming. There are now sunscreens available with only natural ingredients. Also, a lip balm with a SPF of 15 can protect your lips.

And, let's not forget our shoulders, back, and neck, as well as any areas which may be exposed to the sun for long periods of time. You may wish to take along lightweight shirts, ponchos, or beach cover-ups ... even if you don't wear them, you can drape them over you. For instance, if you are wearing shorts and you're sitting in a chair in the sun ... or on a boat, make sure to liberally apply sunscreen to the tops of your thighs and knees ... you can also use a shirt or cover-up of some sort to lightly cover your legs or arms if you feel they are getting too much sun.

All in all, it's a common sense issue, yet many of us have been guilty of not realizing that we are getting burned by the sun. If we get into the habit of wearing sun protection, we are much more likely to enjoy our day without destroying our skin or ending up with a painful burn.

Here are some natural comforts you
can use to find relief from sunburn ...

Aloe Vera - Apple Cider Vinegar
Baking Soda - Calendula
Cocoa Butter - Coconut Oil
Cucumber - Epsom Salts
Lavender - Peppermint - Strawberries
Tea - Witch Hazel - Yogurt

Here are a few assorted notes on what to do with some of those ingredients ...

Baking Soda - Dissolve in water, make a compress using a clean cloth or apply as a paste; or, add about a half cup to tepid bath to soak in for awhile and allow skin to air dry. Epsom salts may also be used in a similar ways.

Cucumber or Strawberries - Apply slices directly to skin, or mash and lightly rub onto affected area. The crisp coolness of cucumber offers wonderful relief from rashes and burns ... place slices in refrigerator before use for an extra cool sensation.

Tea or Calendula - Such as peppermint tea; make tea, allow it to cool, and mist onto skin; use Calendula (Pot Marigold) in similar way.

Witch Hazel - Cooling, soothing, aids in healing, this is a plant that has been used for centuries to aid with insect bites, rashes, and burns. Spray it on as liberally as you like ... you can't over-do Witch Hazel!

Yogurt - Apply and allow it to remain on skin for about five minutes, rinse with cool water.

Skin Tips

Winter & Cold Weather Skin Protection
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