The sun gives us many benefits – vitamin D, improved mood, and even better sleep, to name a few. However, too much of a good thing can be bad, and the sun is no exception to the rule. When it comes to sun exposure, having too much can cause a variety of negative effects.
These effects can range from irritated skin all the way up to heatstroke or skin cancer. While we don't want you to always avoid the sun, it's important to know what can happen if you spend too much time being exposed to UV rays.
Sunburn – Probably Your First Thought
When thinking of the adverse effects of the sun, most people likely think of sunburn. Sunburn is a sign of skin damage that comes from spending too much time being exposed to UV rays, which normally come from sun exposure. While many people will shrug off a sunburn as just a mild irritant, it can be much more than that. In fact, repeated sunburn can lead to skin cancer (but more on that in a minute).
When it comes to sunburn, there are a variety of unpleasant symptoms to watch for. They begin as slightly irritating (red and tender skin or a headache) but can become more severe if the sunburn is more significant. Some people may experience nausea or even a fever from sunburn.
Rather than simply avoiding excessive sun exposure, there are some steps that you can incorporate into your routine to help avoid the possible dangers associated with a sunburn. You should stay out of the sun between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm because these are peak UV hours. In addition, make sure to always apply SPF (even in the winter!!) and wear protective clothing when you can't avoid the sun.
Dehydration – More Than Just Feeling Thirsty
While many consider dehydration a side effect of some illnesses or simply not drinking your recommended daily water intake, too much sun exposure can also lead to dehydration. Dehydration can be mild, but it can also be more serious and even cause someone to end up in the emergency room to receive IV fluids. It happens when your body loses the water it needs in order to function properly.
When you're out in the sun too long, especially when it's hot outside, dehydration becomes a much more significant risk than normal. When you're sweating, your body is losing fluids more quickly, so it's crucial to replace the water faster than it's leaving your body. When outside, watch for symptoms like excessive thirst, dry skin, or feeling dizzy or light-headed. If you begin feeling any of these, get out of the sun and begin hydrating immediately.
It's important to drink plenty of fluids before you go outside and while you're out in the sun. It can also help to do outdoor activities earlier or later in the day, again missing the peak hours for sunray exposure.
Heatstroke – A Severe Consequence
Heatstroke can be seen as a step or two above the dehydration you can experience when you're in the sun too long. This reaction is most common in the summer when the high temperatures are working with the bright sun to cause a dangerous environment to be outside. Heatstroke is caused by your body overheating and requires immediate treatment from a healthcare professional.
If you spend too much time in the sun, you need to watch for any symptoms that can be associated with heatstroke. Watch for an incredibly elevated body temperature (104 degrees Fahrenheit or more), confusion or irritability, slurred speech, rapid heartbeat, or nausea and vomiting. Also, if you or someone you're with suddenly stops sweating, this is a red flag.
If any of these symptoms are experienced, it's important to call 911 immediately and get the affected person out of the sun. From there, cool them off however you can while you wait for the medical professionals – take off unnecessary clothing or put a cool rag on their head. Heatstroke can be very dangerous and even deadly if not handled immediately.
Skin Cancer – The Long Term Effects
So far, we've touched on the short-term dangers of sun exposure. However, prolonged sun exposure can lead to further dangers in the future as well. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and it continues to affect more people year after year. It can be classified as abnormal skin cells that are growing rapidly and unable to be controlled.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer, making up 95% of cases currently. It is treatable if caught quickly but will still lead to a lot of medical procedures and treatments. These two types of skin cancer are caused by sun exposure over time. That's why it's so important to be cautious of how much time you are spending out in the sun – every minute adds to your overall exposure amount.
The more dangerous type of skin cancer is melanoma, which causes 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma most often develops years after a severe sunburn that blistered. Therefore it's crucial to always take care of your skin when it comes to sun exposure. One bad sunburn can lead to consequences, even years later.
UV radiation is the number one cause of skin cancer. It's important to note that tanning beds are just as harmful as natural light when it comes to your risk of cancer. Also, the winter sun provides as much risk as the summer sun, so make sure you are always taking precautions: stay out of the sun, wear SPF, and wear protective clothing.
As the weather heats up and everyone begins spending more time outside, it's very important to remember to take care of your skin. Getting too much sun exposure can pose both immediate dangers as well as long-term consequences. Be smart about your time outside, and make sure not to spend an excessive amount of time unprotected from UV rays.