You may have heard that if you’re low on vitamin D, you should spend more time out in the sun. And in a multitude of ways, sunlight can be beneficial for our health. But if you aren’t careful, it can also be quite dangerous — particularly for your skin.
While skin cancer is the most serious result of too much sun, it can damage your eyes and even your immune system. (Who knew?) So next time you step outside for a while, take a few precautions. Check out seven ways to get a healthy glow below.
1. Know Your Skin
The first and most important thing to take into account is the type of skin you have. Do you have a history of getting burned easily in the sun? Does your skin have any particular sensitivities or conditions to be aware of?
If you use an acne treatment, for example, your skin may be more susceptible to sunburn. In this case, you should take extra care when you go outside. The color of your skin can also give you an idea of the protection you need. The more melanin your body produces, the more protection you have (although you can still get sunburned).
2. Check Your Area’s UV Index Forecast
Before you step outside without protection on a cloudy day, check your area’s UV Index forecast (UVI) on epa.gov. This tool is a straightforward measurement of the intensity of UV rays on any given day. Cool, cloudy days may feel safer, but clouds and a lower temperature don’t always equate with a low UV intensity.
Snow’s surface can reflect UV rays stronger than many other surfaces. So, surprisingly, winter sunburns are very common and very possible. In other words, if you’re wondering if you need to prepare to go outside, don’t look up — look online. The UV Index forecast is the most accurate way to know for sure.
3. Apply Sunscreen Religiously
Other than staying inside, sunscreen is the best way to keep your skin safe. Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget, so bring some with you whenever you leave the house. The CDC recommends using sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 to prevent excessive UV exposure.
Treat the product like a normal skin product that needs reapplying. Sunscreen may be your skin’s suit of armor, but it wears down and becomes less effective as sunlight hits it. Because of this, aim to reapply your sunscreen every two hours at least (and more frequently if the UVI is high).
4. Cover Up
As simple as it sounds, you should cover your skin if you’re going to be outside for a while. Regardless of the temperature, try to wear clothing with long sleeves and pants that reach your shoes. Sun hats and sunglasses protect your eyes, a particularly vulnerable and important area.
On days where you’ll be sedentary (or the rays are just too intense), you may even consider carrying an umbrella. Umbrellas block sunlight as well as rain and are easy to use for consistent shade. Keep one in your car so you’re never caught unprepared by the sun.
5. Wear Dark or Vibrant Colors
When it comes to choosing how to cover your skin, the color of your protection matters. You’ve likely heard (or learned the hard way) that darker colors absorb heat from the sun and make you hotter. Despite this fact, they — along with vibrant colors like bright yellow — are the most effective for blocking UV rays.
For this reason, you should create your outfit based not only on the UVI but also on the outdoor temperature. Dark colors are more suited for winter sun protection because they can overheat you in the summer. More vibrant colors will keep you cooler on a hot day and give you some basic protection.
6. Wear Denser Fabrics
Another factor in the protection you get from clothing is the density of each layer. While it seems logical that more layers will always equal more protection, this isn’t always true. You should prioritize wearing clothing items that have a denser weave when deciding on your protective outfit.
The scientific basis is that, essentially, the denser the item, the smaller the holes through which UV rays can penetrate. As a result, older clothes and those made from natural fibers are less preventive (but cooler) than newer, synthetic ones. Of course, in the heat of the summer, you’ll want to avoid wearing multiple layers, but in the winter, layer on up!
7. Get Your Vitamin D Elsewhere
Ultimately, the benefits of the sun for your vitamin D levels are not enough to risk skin damage. Try not to put yourself in harm’s way. It’s safer, easier, and more common to get necessary vitamin D levels from your diet and supplements instead.
There are plenty of fortified cereals, juices, and dairy products rich in vitamin D. Among whole foods, salmon and mushrooms can provide a lot of it as well. You can try to incorporate these things into your diet. Or to make it even simpler, just take a vitamin D supplement.
Some people don’t have to worry about protection from the sun in their day-to-day lives. Maybe your walk to work is shaded by buildings, or you work from home. Even if you are not exposed to the sun daily, that summer vacation or outdoor work lunch is just waiting to happen. Take care of your health by preventing any possible sun damage. Just a little bit of forethought goes a long way.