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Benefits and dangers of sun exposure examined

05/30/2017
Dr. David Patton

By Olivia Goudy

Herald-Standard

Though the sun’s ultraviolet rays can be felt year-­round, warm summer months invite flocks of people to the outdoors, where increased exposure to its rays leave medical professionals to warn of its power, and benefits.

“Direct exposure of our skin to the sun is instrumental to our bodies producing vitamin D,” said David Patton, D.O., Director of Pediatrics at Uniontown Hospital. “Additionally, being outside in the sun can be part of helping us get exercise and having active lifestyles.”

Vitamin D is crucial for strong bones and is recommended to be consumed in every age range. It can also be found in milk, and is recommended to be taken supplementary for babies.

“Because of the dangers of sun exposure, everyone should receive vitamin D supplementation beginning in infancy,” Patton added.

In particular, Patton recommended that breast­fed babies receive a vitamin D supplement daily. Those who consume formula typically receive the nutrient in the formula itself.

“Older children and adults potentially receive vitamin D from milk, which is naturally a good source of Calcium and typically, when store­bought, fortified with vitamin D,” he added.

Dangers

Like most things in life, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”

Patton noted that a number of negative health effects come from sun exposure.

“Perhaps most importantly, sun exposure over the course of a lifetime increases our risk for skin cancer,” Patton said. “Also unfortunately, while sunburn is particularly problematic, suntans are also not healthy for our skin.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the sun’s rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.

There’s a number of measures one can take to prevent or lessen the sun’s effects, one of the simplest being to decrease exposure.

Patton said he recommends limiting activities in direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which are peak hours for sun exposure.

“You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter before you need relief from the sun,” according to the CDC. “Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside — even when you’re in the shade.”

When it comes to sunscreen, though, there are a few points to remember, particularly that it’s not recommended for infants under 6 months of age, according to Patton.

“Although if direct sun exposure is unavoidable, sunscreen may be better than allowing unprotected exposure to the sun,” he said.

For those over 6-months-old, they recommend sunscreens with SPFs of about 30 of more when in the direct sunlight, he said.

Sunscreen should be applied every two hours, Patton added, and after swimming, sweating or drying with a towel.

The CDC noted that even on slightly cloudy or cool days, sunscreen should still be applied before going outside.

“Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin,” CDC officials said. “Get help for hard­to­reach places like your back.”

Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering sunlight, according to the CDC. They also contain certain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays, they added.

In addition to sunscreen, the CDC recommends taking a look at your wardrobe. Long­sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can deflect UV rays, as can darker colors when compared to lighter colors.

“Keep in mind that a typical T­shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well,” according to the CDC.

Hats and sunglasses are also recommended for optimal protection.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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