Houston is no stranger to hot, sunny summers, and as we enter August, residents are doing everything they can to make the most of the sunlight. Our days are spent relaxing by the pool or on day trips to Galveston Bay. But while you soak up the sun, health experts warn that catching the sun’s rays can be harmful to your health.
While we all need that daily dose of vitamin D, we may be overestimating how much fun in the sun we need. Board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist Dr. Ida Orengo, MD, says that a little goes a long way.
“The problem is that you only need 10 or 15 minutes of sunlight a day to get all the vitamin D that you need, and it doesn’t have to be done in the middle of the day,” she explains. “And then also there are now oral supplements for vitamin D, so there’s absolutely no reason to have to have sunlight to get your vitamin D.”
What Does Tanning Do to Skin?
Extended sun exposure is directly linked to skin cancer—the most common cancer in the country, with an estimated one in five Americans developing it in their lifetime. Simply avoiding sunburns isn’t enough: Orengo asserts that every moment under the sun is a cause for worry. “‘No tan is a safe tan' is the philosophy all dermatologists will give you,” she says. “A tan is a sign of damage to your skin.”
Though aging is inevitable, one of the keys to maintaining youthful-looking skin is steering clear of the daylight, especially in the afternoon, when the temperature is the hottest. Sun exposure prematurely ages your skin, causing leathery, wrinkled skin sooner than expected. “When you look at a farmer versus a history professor that’s in school all day not going out in the sun, the aging is tremendous between those two,” Orengo says. “You see people who have been lifeguards all during their childhood who, at the age of 30, look like 40-year-olds because their skin ages much faster when they’re in the sun.”
How Can We Keep Skin Safe From the Sun?
In Texas, it might seem impossible—staying out of the sun in the Lone Star State is equivalent to staying indoors—and frankly, we have no complaints about that. But there is a happy medium where you can avoid sun damage while enjoying the outdoors. When you’re heading outside this summer, grab a hat with at least a three-inch brim, slather on the sunscreen, and put on your favorite pair of sunglasses to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Wearing tightly woven clothing with long sleeves and pant legs can block out the sun and keep the skin shielded. (This applies even when you’re in the water, so before you head to the pool or the beach, make sure to layer a surf shirt over your bikini or pair one with your swimming trunks.) And of course, stay in the shade—or make your own by setting up an umbrella or a beach tent.
Protecting your skin from the sun isn’t limited to wearing sunscreen and covering up, either; changes can be made to your diet to protect your skin even further. Orengo notes that low-fat diets have been shown to help prevent skin cancer, as have drinks like green tea, which is rich in antioxidants. Even drinking red wine can help out your skin’s health, due to the antioxidant compound resveratrol, which is found in the skin of grapes and protects the body against a host of diseases, including cancer.
Is There a Way to Tan Safely?
Though you may have to mourn the absence of an authentic summertime tan, you can attain that bronzed look you’re going for without putting your health at risk. Self-tanning lotion has become the big to-do: it will add that glowy look to your skin even when the sun isn’t shining. While you’re at it, be sure to stay hypervigilant about your dermal health; take a moment to check your skin for any visible changes such as dark spots, moles, and marks, as each can be a sign of melanoma skin cancer.
It’s clear to see the Houston sun isn’t going away anytime soon, but neither are we. With your sun-protective equipment, a bottle of self-tanning lotion, and a watchful eye on your skin, you’ll be ready to take on the rest of summer without putting your health at risk.