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Keep Safe in the Garden: Protecting Yourself from the Sun

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Hopefully, by now pretty much every regular gardener knows that gardening without some sun protection can be damaging to your skin and health. Many gardeners use sun shirts and hats to keep themselves protected, and this is a great way to be safe. Sunscreen is also a viable way to keep yourself safe from the sun’s harmful rays, but there are a few things about sunscreen that you might not know.

  • SPF 30 blocks about 97% of the suns harmful UV rays. What most people don’t realize is that studies have shown that SPF ratings higher than 30 also only block about 97% of these rays, so the difference is negligible. It’s important to remember this, as very high SPF numbers give a lot of people a false sense of security, leading them to use less sunscreen or stay out in the sun longer.
  • SPF ratings only apply to UVB rays. Make sure to use a quality sunblock that blocks UVA rays as well. Sunscreens with titanium dioxide, avebenzone, or zinc oxide all provide good UVA protection.
  • You need to really slather it on. Studies have shown that most people use significantly less sunscreen than is required for full protection. Some of these studies have even suggested that most sunscreen users apply 10% or less of what they should, which can greatly reduce the protection the sunscreen provides.
  • Reapplication guidelines on the bottle of your sunblock isn’t just to sell more sunblock. Your sunblock not only comes off of your skin fairly easily, but also loses potency as it is is exposed to UV rays. Don’t go more than two hours between reapplications. Seriously.
  • Some people say, “Well, I’m already burned, I can skip the sunblock.” This is the opposite of the case. Skin that is sunburned can actually be more susceptible to the sun-induced mutations that can, over time, cause skin cancer.
  • When sunscreen is first applied, some of it evaporates, causing a cooling sensation for many people. However, once you’re out in the sun, the sunscreen works in part by the active chemicals absorbing the harmful radiation of the suns rays and releasing them as tiny amounts of heat or kinetic energy, so the sunscreen can conceivably make you warmer than you would otherwise (remember that a sunburn is very different from the type of burn you’d get from heat). This difference in temperature is almost certainly negligible, of course, so this isn’t so much a “safety tip” as “something that I found really interesting.”
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