Many of us know that sun exposure is necessary for good health. But how much sunlight is too much?
For much needed vitamin D, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2017) recommends getting five to 15 minutes of sunlight on your face and arms at least twice a week—double that number if you have dark skin, like many Filipinos. Staying under the sun can also boost your mood: Exposure to sunlight helps your brain produce serotonin, one of the ‘happy hormones’.
But 15 minutes can be enough time to get a sunburn even if it won’t show for a few hours. Prolonged sun exposure can also lead to serious skin damage. Experts estimate that sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases your chances of developing skin cancer. In the long run, extended exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can also accelerate skin aging.
Thus, it is important to strike a balance between getting sunlight for your physical and mental health, and ensuring your skin is protected from the sun.
There are many ways to shield your skin from sunlight. One is to wear clothes that cover more parts of your body exposed to the sun (for example, long sleeves, pants, and high-neck shirts). A hat will help protect your face and neck, and UV-blocking sunglasses will protect your eyes. Look out for clothes with UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, labels: These fabrics will limit harmful UV penetration—a shirt with UPF 50, for example, will only let 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation reach your skin.
Another way is to stay in the shade. The sun is at its peak intensity between 10am and 4pm, so best to seek cover during these hours. Walk under the trees, stay under an awning, or use an umbrella to block the light.
However, even with extra clothing and avoidance of direct exposure to the sun, some parts of your skin remain exposed to UV rays. The only way to really protect yourself is to use products like sunblock and sunscreen.
While the terms ‘sunblock’ and ‘sunscreen’ are often used interchangeably, they use different methods to protect your skin from the sun. Sunscreen penetrates the skin and absorbs UV rays. Sunblock acts as a physical barrier on top of your skin and is recommended for those with sensitive skin. Either way, these products are necessary for skin protection. Here are ways to use them correctly:
1. Use broad protection sunscreens, or those which protect against both types of UV rays (UVA and UVB).
2. Apply a thick layer of product on all exposed areas of the skin.
3. Use only sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. The higher the number, the more protection. To understand this: The number indicates how many times longer it would take UV rays to penetrate your skin than they normally would without sunscreen (for example, 15x longer for SPF 15).
4. Sunscreen wears off, so it is necessary to reapply after two hours, or after you’ve gone swimming or wiped yourself with a towel.
5. Check your sunscreen’s expiration date; if it doesn’t have one, assume its shelf life is three years.
6. Sunscreen cannot be used on infants six months or younger. Instead, keep them out of the sun and use protective clothing.
1. WHO. (2017). https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/radiation-the-known-health-effects-of-ultraviolet-radiation#:~:text=The%20sun's%20rays%20provide%20warmth,being%20and%20stimulate%20blood%20circulation.&text=But%205%20to%2015%20minutes,your%20vitamin%20D%20levels%20high.
Johann Ulrik Go/ CONTRIBUTED