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Summer is officially in full swing providing the perfect opportunity for adults and children of all ages to get outside and be active in the sunshine. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors has many benefits not only for your physical health but also your mental health. Although outdoor time is good for our health, we must also keep in mind the damaging effects the sun can have on our skin and eyes.

As you participate in all the fun activities summer brings, understand the hot summer sun emits ultraviolet radiation known as UV-A and UV-B rays that can damage your skin and/or eyes in as little as 15 minutes. Throughout the summer, UV rays tend to be at their strongest between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and are even present on cloudy and cool days. Learning how to protect yourself and your loved ones from UV rays is important to not only help reduce your chances of skin cancer but also decrease your chance of vision problems, damage to your eyes, a suppressed immune system and premature aging of the skin.

One way you can help to reduce your risk for skin damage is by wearing protective clothing that will decrease your exposure to UV rays. Protective clothing includes long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts. If it is not practical to wear this type of clothing, then a T-shirt or beach cover-up are good alternatives. When looking for protective clothing, look for clothes that are certified as offering UV protection or are made from tightly woven fabrics, as they offer the best protection. You should also consider wearing UV protected sunglasses and a hat that has a brim all the way around to shade your face, ears and the back of your neck.

Sunscreen is another important factor in decreasing the damage caused by the sun's UV rays. Choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum with an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied in thick layers to all exposed skin before going outdoors, even on cloudy or cool days. You should reapply sunscreen after two hours of being in the sun and after swimming, sweating or drying off. Most sunscreens expire so be sure to look for expiration dates. If they do not have an expiration date listed, they generally have a shelf life of no more than three years with shelf life being shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Lastly, you should try to seek shade as much as possible, especially in the middle of the day when the sun's glare is most intense. This could be sitting under an umbrella, tree or any other form of shelter. Note even when seeking shade, you should also continue to protect your skin with sunscreen and/or protective clothing.

Summer activities with the family can be a lot of fun, but we must also keep in mind the sun's effects on our skin and eyes. Be sure to keep your family safe by staying informed and taking the appropriate steps to prevent those damaging effects.

Jennifer Wolken RN, BSN graduated from Lincoln University's Bachelor of Science Nursing Program in 2010 and has been working as a Public Health Nurse with the Cole County Health Department for the past two years.

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