Here comes the sun: It’s summertime and the living is easy – but we still need to protect our skin

Commentary by Kendall Wiggins
Times-News correspondent

The sun is beautiful, but it also can harm us. / Photo illustration by Kendall Wiggins, Times-News correspondent

The sun is a magnificent motor: it drives all life, water and much, much more. Such a benevolent astronomical being couldn’t do harm, could it?
   Wrong. The sun is arguably as harmful as it is helpful. The current culture of bronze skin and tanning beds is causing what could be called an epidemic of skin damage. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are silent killers — starting with skin cells and ultimately advancing to human beings.
   It seems that there is a tanning salon nearly everywhere nowadays. Most have heard about the dangers of tanning using artificial sunlight, but many fail to realize that tanning with the real sun can be just as dangerous. What appears as bronze, “healthy” skin is really damaged skin cells, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website,
   When you stay in the sun too long without protection, a pigment called melanin is produced, darkening the skin. Repeated damage to the skin through tanning and serious burns severely hinders the ability of the body to repair skin cells.
   With time, this damage starts to show; wrinkles, sun spots, and even cancerous areas can arise. However, limited amounts of sun can be helpful to your mood and your bones. Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D, which aids in the body’s absorption of calcium.
   Sunlight can ease depression and wake you up, too. Here’s the catch — it only takes 10 minutes for a fair-skinned person’s body to produce a bounty of vitamin D, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Don’t shy away from the sun, but don’t use the benefits of small amounts of sun as an excuse to tan repeatedly.
   The sun can be dangerous, but there are plenty of ways to protect your skin when you spend time outdoors. Sunscreen is the most obvious form of protection. Look for a brand with UVA and UVB (also known as broad spectrum) protection.
   If you plan on swimming or being active, add “waterproof” or “sweatproof” to your sunscreen criteria. Definitely don’t forget about SPF. The fairer your skin, the larger the SPF value should be. For example, with SPF 15, you can stay in the sunlight 15 times longer than you could without sunscreen before burning. Put on sunscreen even when it is cloudy outside. The sun penetrates through clouds — burns on cloudy days are harder to detect early and can be extremely painful later in the day. Clothing can also offer some protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Hats can offer some protection for your face, and fabric can also block some UV rays. Cotton and cotton blends, for example, have an SPF of around 7 or 8, according to
   The sun is most certainly powerful, but with great power comes great responsibility for humans. As long as we protect our skin through sunscreen and proper clothing, the sun can even be beneficial, preventing diseases and brightening our day, both literally and figuratively.
   Small amounts of sun are healthy, but a dark tan is not, no matter what you have heard. If you still want bronzed skin, consider a self-tanning lotion or bronzer. It seems that the easiest route is to embrace your natural skin tone — it will save you money from tanning beds and lotions and will keep you safer from the dangers of damaged skin and cancer. Summer is nearing, so think before you tan: Is bronze skin today worth the possibility of wrinkles and skin cancer tomorrow?

Kendall Wiggins is a rising junior at Western Alamance High School and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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