Protective social distancing measures were put into place right as the weather started improving. But that hasn’t kept Arkansans from getting outside. The great outdoors has offered a wonderful escape for many experiencing cabin fever, and for good reason. Time spent outdoors has positive effects on your mood, health and overall sense of wellbeing. However, as most of us know, the sun can damage your skin if you don’t protect it. 

May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While skin cancer is often thought of as a mild form of the disease, it can become deadly. It is most often caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which penetrates and damages skin cells.  

Here are some tips for protecting your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. 

1. Cover up. 

  • When you are out in the sun, wear clothing with good coverage and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. 
  • Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. Darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one. 
  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
  • Wearing a hat and sunglasses will help protect your face, eyes, head, ears and neck.

2. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

  • Apply at least 1 ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) 15 minutes before you go outside.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
  • “Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” No sunscreens are waterproof or “sweatproof.”
  • Some products include an expiration date, indicating when it is no longer effective. Discard any sunscreen that is past this date.
  • Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection. It’s not the temperature, but UV rays that cause the damage.

3. Avoid direct sun, and stay away from tanning beds and sunlamps. 

  • Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
  • Exposure to both natural and “artificial” sunlight can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
  • People who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of getting melanoma.

4. Don’t burn!

  • The sun’s UV rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes, yet it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.
  • One or more severe, blistering sunburns can increase your risk of melanoma.
  • Tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside—whether sunburn or suntan—indicates damage from UV rays. 

Dr. Lubna Maruf, medical director at QualChoice Health Insurance, is a graduate of Aga Khan Medical University in Pakistan and completed her residency at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has over 20 years’ experience in internal medicine and health care administration.