green and blue shades for the sun

Beyond Sunscreen: How to Protect Yourself from UV Rays

The sun is a conveniently accessible source of vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones. Daily exposure to the sun is beneficial but spending too much time under its rays carries several risks. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause wrinkles, cataracts, premature ageing of the skin and skin cancer.

According to the NHS, you can burn under the sun in the UK, even when it’s cloudy. While sunscreen is often an effective barrier against UV rays, sometimes it’s not enough to just slather it on. There are other ways to limit your daily exposure to sunlight.

Seek shade

There’s a valid reason a lot of educational institutions have started installing school shelters inside their premises. They want to protect their students from overexposure to UV rays.

Simply staying in the shade is the most convenient way to limit your UV exposure. Staying indoors or seeking shade prevents you from spending too much time under direct sunlight. This is especially important between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. If you are unsure how strong the UV light is, use the shadow test: if the shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s rays are at their strongest and it’s vital you protect yourself.

Ultraviolet rays reach the ground all year, even on hazy and cloudy days. However, the intensity of the rays changes according to the seasons and other factors such as cloud cover and its reflection off surfaces. UV rays tend to become more intense during the spring, even before the temperatures get warmer. This is why people in specific areas suffer from sunburn despite the cool weather — they think it’s okay to not protect themselves because it’s not hot out.

You should also be careful when you’re on a beach or in places with snow because water, sand and snow reflect sunlight, increasing the amount of UV radiation in the area. Also, UV rays can reach below the water’s surface. You can still suffer from sunburn even if you feel cool in the water.

Eat food that provides sun protection

Free radicals can lead to premature ageing, wrinkles and the formation of skin cancer cells. However, when you eat particular fruits and vegetables daily, you can help your skin build a natural barrier from the sun’s harmful rays.

Skin scientists have discovered that fruits and vegetables rich in pigment and antioxidants have special compounds that help protect the skin from sun damage. The antioxidants from food items such as tomatoes, kale, spinach, blueberries and figs help fight the free radicals that build up from exposure to UV rays.

Protect your skin with clothing

woman wearing pink shirt under a blue long sleeve jacket

When you are outdoors and the sun is at its peak, wear clothes that provide UV protection. There are many companies that manufacture clothing with a specialised coating to help absorb UV rays. These innovative sun-protective clothes often have a label that lists the clothing’s ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The higher the UPF, the higher the protection that it provides from UV rays.

If you cannot find protective clothing with UPF features, you may opt for long-sleeved shirts, pants and knee-length skirts. Clothes made of tightly-woven fabric also protect better than loosely woven clothing.

The next time you head outside, don’t rely on sunscreen alone. While Vitamin D has many health benefits, it’s important to strike a balance between getting the vitamins that you need and protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays with the practices listed above.

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