Skin is the body’s largest organ, offering protection against heat, sunlight and infection. But many of us don’t make skin protection a priority.

July is National Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month and Coastal Health & Wellness is encouraging you to take better care of your skin. Skin helps keep internal temperature steady when the temperature around us changes and helps protect against infection.

Sun exposure can damage this important organ and lead to skin cancers, early cataract formation in the lens of the eyes, and cosmetic problems like age spots and leathery skin.

Damage can begin within 15 minutes of unprotected exposure of the sun’s rays. Lighter-skinned people and people with light colored eyes are especially at risk for rapid damage, but brown and dark-skinned people are by no means immune to damage from the sun, and need to take all the precautions of lighter-skinned people.

Protecting skin from the harmful impacts of UV radiation from the sun is simple but requires daily diligence in this part of the country where the sun shines much of the year.

It’s summer and it’s hot, but long-sleeved shirts and long pants really do provide the best protection from UV rays. Anytime you anticipate being outdoors during this time of year, wear some type of cover-up and still apply sunscreen to all uncovered areas.

A typical T-shirt has an SPF of lower than 15. So be sure to use other protection like sunscreen, too. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat may protect the face, ears and neck. Baseball caps won’t protect the back of the neck or the ears, so be sure to use sunscreen, 30 SPF or higher, on those parts and all other unprotected areas.

Higher SPFs will offer a little stronger protection, but sunscreen needs to be applied and reapplied when you’re in and out of the water or sweating. A full-day outing could require one entire tube of sunscreen. Be generous when applying sunscreen to exposed skin.

Cloudy and winter weather doesn’t mean you’re safe. Water, snow, sand, even the windows of a building, can reflect the damaging rays of the sun, increasing the chance of a sunburn.

Sunburns significantly increase the lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. Children who develop sunburns, even if they eventually tan, are at a much higher risk for skin cancer later in life. Even one burn is too many. If possible, stay out of the sun during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find a shaded location or create shade using an umbrella or wide-brimmed hat.

UV rays can also affect your eyes. Common sun-related vision problems include cataracts, macular degeneration and pterygium, a non-cancerous growth on the whites of the eye.

UV-resistant sunglasses block UVA and UVB rays, as well as the tender skin around eyes from sun exposure. Wrap-around style sunglasses with 99 or higher UV block should glare and block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. The wrap-around style helps protect eyes from most angles.

Dr. Cindy Ripsin is the medical director for Coastal Health & Wellness clinics in Texas City and Galveston.

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