The sky is a brilliant blue, the waves are lapping peacefully at the shore, and the sun is shining brightly overhead. Grabbing a beach towel and heading down to the beach for a little sunning sounds like a great idea right about now. You can lap up the rays while you catch up on that novel you haven’t had time to finish or even work in a nice, warm nap. But you’ve heard the statistics. Is laying out on the beach safe? Or will you be putting yourself at risk for skin cancer? You want a gorgeous tan, but you’re hardly willing to risk your life for it.
There is a lot of hearsay floating around out there: tanning directly in the sun will give you cancer, tanning beds are safer than the real sun, tanning in the real sun is safer than a tanning bed. Ugh. It can be confusing to separate fact from fiction. The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Tanning (either in a tanning bed or in the sun) can lead to cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and one of the leading causes of skin cancer is too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation either from the sun or from tanning beds. Too much exposure to the sun or artificial sunning lamps also has other nasty (those less dangerous) side effects as well such as causing wrinkles, age spots, and changes in skin textures (makes skin leathery, ew!).
So does that mean you should avoid the beach at all costs? Of course not! Spending time in the sun is not only fun, but doing it in moderation is actually good for you. Exposure to sunlight allows our bodies to produce vitamin D, which is essential for bone health. Our bodies are actually designed to only produce Vitamin D when our bare skin is exposed to sunlight, so we are literally designed to spend time in the sun! Don’t worry, there are ways to spend time in the sun and stay healthy at the same time. The best way to accomplish this is by taking these precautions:
Extended exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is dangerous, so when you are going to be at the beach be sure to come prepared with a way to spend some time in the shade and out of the sun. Bringing along a beach umbrella is a great way to accomplish this. In between periods of splashing in the waves or lying in the sun, lounge in the shade under the umbrella for a while before heading back into the sun.
If you don’t feel like lugging a big beach umbrella down to the beach with you (it can be quite a workout!), bring items to cover yourself up with in between bouts spent in the sun. Pack a shirt, hat, and sunglasses and put them on in intervals in between sun play. Be sure the hat is large and floppy enough that it shades your entire face and be sure to wear sunglasses that boast 100 % UVA and UVB protection to best protect your eyes from the sun’s rays.
Put on sunscreen
Wondering how you can get a tan if you are wearing sunscreen? Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get a tan while using sunscreen. In fact, it is much better and safer for you to tan with sunscreen rather than being directly exposed to the sun with no protection. Utilizing Skin Protection Factor, or SPF, allows you to spend an extended amount of time in the sun with less risk to damaging your skin.
The higher the SPF number, the more protection from the sun’s UVB rays the sunscreen affords. Those with darker skin tones can use a lower SPF while those with fair skin tones require a higher SPF to keep from becoming sun burned. For best results apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you will be exposed to the sun and reapply every couple of hours. It is also is a good idea to reapply immediately after water play.
Time it right
The sun’s ultraviolet rays are at their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. With the long days of summer, there are still hours of daylight left after 4 p.m. so you can try to plan activities that will require long exposures to the sun so that they take place after 4 p.m. Of course this isn’t always possible, but many times it is. That beach volleyball game will probably be more enjoyable in the cooler evening temperatures anyway!
Keep it in moderation.
The safest way to achieve that healthy, tan glow is to tan in small intervals. Don’t spend an entire day lying in the sun so you can look tan by tomorrow. While you may look tan when you leave the beach, odds are that some of you skin was also burned. Direct exposure to sunlight is best done in small doses over the course of time. Just a half hour a day of exposure to the sun is all it takes to achieve a nice, even tan and at a much less risk to your skin and your health.