BHealthy Blog

BDB 100: Protecting Your Skin from Sun Damage

By Erin Goss, nurse practitioner at Baptist Health Adult Medicine Specialists-Fort Smith

In Arkansas, there are many activities that can have you spending hours in the sun. From little league practice and family pool time to training for Big Dam Bridge 100, if you’re not protecting your skin, you could be setting yourself up for a painful sunburn and permanent skin damage.

Ultraviolet (UV) light, specifically UVA and UVB rays, can cause both immediate and long-term damage.” said Erin Goss, a nurse practitioner at Baptist Health Adult Medicine Specialists-Fort Smith. “Immediate effects include sunburn, while long-term exposure can lead to premature aging, such as wrinkles and age spots, and significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.”

UVA rays can penetrate the skin, causing your skin cells to change prematurely, while UVB rays cause the skin to burn. If possible, limit outdoor activities to times of the day where the sun’s rays are less intense. This could include early morning or late evening, Goss said.

“It is crucial to avoid the sun when it is at its peak intensity, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., to minimize the risk of UV exposure,” said Goss. 

But if you must be outside during those peak sunshine times, there are precautions you can take to help protect the largest organ of the human body – your skin.

3 Simple Steps to Stay Safe (Any Time of Day) 

  1. Wear Sunblock – Using a sun care product labeled as “broad-spectrum” offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using one with a “sunburn protection factor” or SPF of 30 or higher and to reapply every two hours to dry skin, especially if you’re sweating or in water. (Spoiler: the AAD says there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen.) Learn how to decode sunscreen labels
  2. Wear Protective Clothing – Sunscreen alone won’t protect you. Grab a hat that provides shade for your face, neck and even shoulders, and polarized UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes. You can also wear protective clothing such as long sleeve shirts, tights or pants or cycling gloves. Many clothing companies make breathable athletic attire that provides some protection from UV rays. 
  3. Get Familiar with the UV Index – The Ultraviolet Index is an international standard measurement of the strength of the sunburn producing UV radiation at a particular place and time. Weather apps on your phone or smartwatch put the UV Index at your fingertips. The index goes from 0 to 11+, with risk becoming greater with the number. Even if the UV Index is a 2, you may still need to wear sunglasses and a broad spectrum sunscreen, especially if you’re more susceptible to sunburns. Watch out for bright surfaces, like sand, water and snow, which reflect UV and increase exposure. Don’t have your phone handy? Remember the “Shadow Rule.” The American Skin Association recommends if a person’s shadow is shorter than the person is tall, the intensity of the UV rays from the sun is more likely to cause sunburn. So, short shadow – seek shade. 

Skin Cancer Screenings

At some point in your life, your primary care provider may recommend a skin cancer screening. This could happen as early as your 20s, especially if you have risk factors such as fair skin, moles, a history of sunburns or a family history of skin cancer. 

A skin cancer check entails a thorough examination of your skin for any unusual moles, spots, or growths,” Goss said. “This can be done by your primary care provider during a routine examination. However, if there are any suspicious findings or if you have a higher risk for skin cancer, you may be referred to a dermatologist for a more detailed examination and possibly a biopsy of any concerning areas.”

7 Signs of Skin Damage to Talk to Your Doctor About 

  • New growths or sores that don’t heal
  • Changes in the size, shape or color of existing moles
  • Moles with irregular borders or multiple colors
  • Itching, tenderness or pain in a mole or spot
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole
  • Changes in the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing, or bleeding
  • Dark spots under your nails or on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet

It’s essential to perform regular self-examinations and to seek medical advice if you notice any of these changes,” Goss said. “Early detection of skin cancer can significantly improve treatment outcomes.”

To find a primary care provider near you, visit