Saving Your Skin
Protect Against Harmful UV Rays
July 2, 2014 by Mark Dye
Military members are trained to be tough, able to handle whatever nature or the enemy dishes at them. But even the best trained and equipped troops can fall victim to an enemy they can feel but can’t see: the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. So whether you’re in the mountains of Afghanistan, the deck of an aircraft carrier, or training in Oklahoma, you really need to protect yourself.
What UV is
There are three types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The first one is the most common and makes up 95% of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. It is prevalent all year around (even in winter) and penetrates the skin more than the other two types. In fact, it is around 50 times more common than the second type.
UVB is the one responsible for your tan (and your sunburns!) and can accelerate skin aging. It plays a very key role in the development of skin cancer as well, though it will not penetrate glass. It also varies in strength depending on the time of year, with the most intense times being from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between April and October.
The last one, UVC, is not considered a problem. This is because it is filtered out by ozone in the atmosphere and, thus, doesn’t reach the surface.
How to protect yourself
You want to use a sunscreen that offers what is called multi-spectrum protection, broad-spectrum protection or UVA/UVB protection. If you’re not sure if it blocks UVA rays, check the label to see if it contains avobenzone or zinc oxide, both of which filter UVA.
Doctors and skin cancer organizations stress that any sunscreen you use should also have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. What this means is that it will take 15 times longer than unprotected skin to sunburn (which is what the number after the SPF means). And note that SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays, SPF 30 about 97 percent, and SPF 50 is at 98 percent.
Other key tips:
- Put on sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside—This is how long it will take for it to be absorbed and work
- Reapply it frequently—Every two to three hours is ideal
- Remember that no product is waterproof—If you’re in the water, or even find yourself sweating a lot, you’ll need to reapply it more frequently (every 20 minutes if in the water, to about every hour if perspiring a great deal).
- The type of protection matters—You should use a produce with an SPF of 15 and make sure that it protects against both UVA and UVB (called multi-spectrum).
There will be times when your military duties require you to be in the sun for long periods of time. When those times come, it only makes sense that you protect yourself against a very determined (and, sometimes, deadly) foe.