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Person practicing sun safety by putting sunscreen on their arm in the sun

Keep it Cool and Practice Sun Safety on "Don’t Fry Day"

Maybe it's a 60-degree day and you don't feel the sun's heat. Or you're working in the yard and lose track of time. Perhaps your kids ran out to play before you could get the sunscreen slathered on them.

That early summer sunburn can sneak up on you. That's why the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has declared May 26th, "Don't Fry Day." It's a reminder to heed the dangers of the sun – before it's too late.

I think the public generally is pretty aware that skin cancers are overwhelmingly caused by damaging sun rays. But early in the season, there can be complacency about sun safety. We simply neglect to take those steps.

Why Is Sunburn So Dangerous?

It's important to remember because a burn is the worst kind of sun exposure. You might forget the sting after a burn heals, but your skin does not. The sun's effects are cumulative. Every bit of sun that touches your skin is there forever. In fact, just one burn has effects many years down the road.

That's why it is so important to protect yourself from the time you're young. I tell parents: You make or break your child's sun exposure. Those first 20 years are on your watch. If you can go the first two decades without a bad burn, you've set your child up for much better skin health.

Sun Safety Habits

Make sun safety a habit you practice for yourself and teach to your loved ones. Start with these three keys:

  1. Sun avoidance – Stay in the shade, and avoid most intense rays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  2. Sun blocking – Wear hats, sunglasses, long sleeves, swim shirts and use umbrellas.
  3. Sunscreen – Use broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterward.

Practice Sun Safety on Cool Days

Early in the summer, remember that sun rays can be harmful on relatively cool days. Sun rays can also go through clouds, so beware on hazy days. And a word about hats: they don't block indirect sun exposure. Sun can be reflected off of water, sand and asphalt. That's why hat-wearers can still get tremendous sun damage.

My bottom line is this: the sun is damaging and any amount of color means some damage has occurred. Despite using sunscreen, we all get a little color and I think we can live with that. If your goal is to have that suntanned look, try fake tan products and spray tanning–they've improved over the years.

Just remember to skip the sizzle, be sun safe and have a great summer. If you have concerns about sun damage, schedule an appointment with one of our Dermatology providers at CHI Health.

Originally Published: May 2020. Revised: March 2023.

Christopher Huerter, MD
Christopher Huerter, MD

Chris Huerter, MD is a Dermatologist with CHI Health.

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