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Sun Sense

Sun Sense

About the Sun
The Making of a Tan
What the Heck is SPF Anyway?
Sunscreen and Sunblock Smarts
The Truth About Tanning Beds
Skin Cancer: Are You at Risk?
Sunburn Care
Faking It: How to Self-Tan Like a Pro
Before You "Tan"
How to "Tan" in the Bathroom

About the Sun
The sun does lots of good things. It helps plants and people grow. It keeps us warm and brightens our moods. Your skin also helps your body turn sunlight into vitamin D, an important nutrient for a strong, healthy body. But the sun can also do bad things, like cause skin cancer.

The sun has two main types of rays, UVA and UVB rays. The UVA rays are the ones that dry out your skin and cause permanent damage like brown spots and wrinkles. The UVB rays cause your skin to burn; they are also the main cause of skin cancer. UVA rays are longer and can reach deeper into your skin. They can also go through windows (so if you are in a car or sitting in front of a window, you need to protect your skin). UVB rays are shorter but still do plenty of damage. But that doesn't mean you need to hide in your house forever. You can play in the sun and keep your skin safe. This guide will show you how. back to top

The Making of a Tan
A tan is a sign that your skin is damaged. When the sun's rays hit your skin, your skin produces extra melanin to protect itself. The more melanin you produce, the darker your skin gets. And the darker your skin gets, the more damaged it gets. If your skin is dark to start out with, that doesn't mean it's damaged, it just means that you have more melanin to start with. But if you have dark skin and it gets darker in the sun, then you are damaging it. back to top

What the Heck is SPF Anyway?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. It tells you how many times longer than usual you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you normally burn in 10 minutes and you put on a sunblock with an SPF of 15, then you can stay in the sun fifteen times longer than normal. In this case, you'd be able to stay in the sun 150 minutes (15 x 10), or two and a half hours without burning. back to top

Sunscreen and Sunblock Smarts
Using sunscreen or sunblock with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 every day is the first step in protecting yourself from the sun. Sunscreens and sunblocks both work to shield your skin from the sun's harmful rays. The difference is in how they do it. Sunscreens absorb the sun's rays. Sunblocks block the sun's rays. Both work well, but sunblock might be better at protecting you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Putting on sun protection should be like brushing your teeth—just one of those things you should do every day at least once. But like brushing your teeth, you've got to do it right to get results. You can't slap it on here and there and think you're covered. Here are some tips for making sunblock and sunscreen work for you.
  • Find a sunblock or sunscreen you like. This may be the most important tip of all. Because if you don't like the way it feels or smells, you're not going to use it, right? So try a few until you find one you like.
  • Choose a sunblock or sunscreen that has the word broad-spectrum on it. This means that it protects you from both types of ultraviolet rays, UVA (the ones that cause aging and wrinkles) and UVB (the ones that cause burning).
  • Be generous. It should take about one ounce (or four generous handfuls) of sunblock or sunscreen to cover your whole body. Make sure you use at least that much.
  • If you're heading to the beach, apply sun protection everywhere (even on places where your suit covers you). This is a good idea for two reasons. First, you'll be covered if your suit moves during the day. Second, most fabrics don't do a very good job of blocking the sun, especially if they're light-colored.
  • Put on sunblock or sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside. This gives the chemicals a chance to bond with your skin and form a protective barrier. But if you forget to put it on before you get into the sunshine, apply it as soon as you remember. Getting sunscreen on late is better than no protection at all.
  • If your face is sensitive, use a sunblock instead of a sunscreen. Look for one made for sensitive skin. They usually contain ingredients that are less likely to upset your face.
  • Don't use alcohol-based sunscreens on your face (look for alcohol on the ingredients label). They work well on your body (especially if you run around a lot and get very sweaty), but they can sting the sensitive skin on your face.
  • Don't forget your ears, lips, and nose. Use a sunblock or sunscreen stick on your ears and nose. Use a lip balm with a SPF of 15 or more, because sunblock and sunscreen don't stay on lips very well.
  • Reapply sunscreen or sunblock every two hours or so. Apply it more often if you've been sweating a lot and rubbing yourself dry with your towel (and wiping off sunblock in the process).
  • If you're going to be in the water or playing sports outside and sweating a lot, use waterproof or water-resistant formulas. They stay on better than regular formulas. But you still have to re-apply them often. back to top
The Truth About Tanning Beds
In spite of what you might have heard, tanning beds are not a safe alternative to the sun. Like the sun, tanning beds give off ultraviolet rays. When these rays hit your skin, your skin protects itself by producing more melanin. As a result, you get a tan. And a tan means that damage has been done. Just like the sun, tanning beds increase your risk of skin cancer. They can also hurt your eyes and dry out your skin, which means a wrinkly future ahead. If you insist on "going tanning," always wear a sunblock or sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and protective goggles to shield your eyes from the UV rays. back to top

Skin Cancer: Are You at Risk?
Here are the most common risk factors for skin cancer.
  • having light hair (blond, red, or light brown) and light eyes (blue, green, and gray)
  • having a light complexion and freckles
  • having a history of bad sunburns as a child or as a teenager
  • burning when in the sun or not being able to tan
  • having a family member who has or had skin cancer
  • spending a lot of time outdoors (athletes or camp counselors, for example)
  • having lots of moles back to top
Sunburn Care
Okay, so you slipped up a bit and forgot to apply sunscreen. Now you're looking like a lobster! Here's how to feel and look better, fast:
  • Soak a clean washcloth or towel in cool water, wring it out, and lay it over the sunburned area. This cools the skin and reduces swelling.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve swelling and pain.
  • For bad cases, apply a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream to lessen redness and swelling.
  • If you get sun blisters, don't pop them. They will go away faster if you leave them alone. If a blister breaks, have an adult remove the extra skin and put an antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin®) on it to keep it from getting infected.
  • If it's really bad, see your health professional. He or she may prescribe a medicine that you can take as a pill. It will reduce the swelling and help keep the sunburn from getting worse. back to top
Faking It: How to Self-Tan Like a Pro
Okay, so you want to look like a bronzed goddess but you don't want to put your skin or health at risk. Where should you go to get your glow? Turn to self-tanners. They give you a natural, sun-kissed look without any of the bad effects of the sun. Self-tanners are safe to use, but they can be a little tricky to apply. Here's how to get a golden glow that will look as good as the real thing. back to top

Before You "Tan"
  • Pick a self-tanning product that someone you know has recommended. You might need to experiment with a few to see which ones look best on your skin. You can get self-tanners at drugstores or in the cosmetics section at department stores.
  • Exfoliate to prevent the self-tanner from looking blotchy on your skin. Massage a handful of exfoliating scrub into wet skin. Focus on areas like your knees and ankles where lots of dead skin cells build up. You can also use a body brush or nylon puff to help smooth out your skin.
  • Shave your legs.
  • Get some latex gloves and a few old towels. back to top
How to "Tan" in the Bathroom
  • Get naked. It's really easy to get self-tanner everywhere. So even if you're only going to "tan" your legs, take it all off.
  • Put on the gloves—tan palms are a dead giveaway. Squeeze a small amount of self-tanner into your hands.
  • Start low. Begin with the tops of your feet (don't do the bottoms) and work your way up. Massage the lotion into your skin in even stroking motions, making sure you don't skip any areas.
  • Use a lighter touch on your knees and elbows because these areas tend to come out darker.
  • Have a friend help you do your back.
  • Let the tanner dry for about half an hour (or as long as it says on the bottle).
  • For best results, don't put on clothes or go to bed for a few hours. Don't get any water on the areas you tanned or you'll get light streaks. If you're sitting down, cover furniture with an old towel so you won't get self-tanner on the couch.
  • If you get any self-tanner on your palms or anywhere else you don't want to be tan, wash it off immediately with soap and water.
  • You should start to see your tan in about three hours.
  • Reapply self-tanner every week to maintain your new glow. back to top
Last Modified Date: 4/4/2001
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