SunSummer is in full swing, and for many of us, this means hours in the sun playing, swimming, barbecuing, and more. But did you know that all this time spent in the sun can cause irreversible damage to your skin? This includes premature aging such as fine wrinkles, sun spots, irregular pigmentation and an increased risk for skin cancer. It’s impractical to completely avoid the sun during the summer months. However, a number of steps can help minimize its detrimental effects.

First and foremost, is the liberal use of sunscreen. This is especially important for fair-skinned individuals. Many brands of make-up and foundation contain sunscreen, however they’re usually not strong enough and additional sunscreen is required. Although much of the SPF numbering system is arbitrary and confusing, the higher numbers usually indicate more effective protection. The best of all sunscreens are the ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide. When applied, these sunscreens leave a visible coating on the skin. There are several brands that are flesh colored, as opposed the traditional white colored zinc oxide.

What’s better than sunscreen? a wide-brim hat of course. Most baseball and golf caps do not adequately shield the entire face, ears and neck from the sun, and additional sunscreen is required. It is important to remember that around bodies of water such as a pool, lake or ocean, the sun’s rays reflect off the water and the hat is not able to block these rays.

Despite what the labels say, sunscreen is not truly waterproof or sweatproof. It must be reapplied after swimming, or following intense exercise. Furthermore, during the hottest parts of the day, it should generally be reapplied every couple of hours. Since the peak hours of UV light exposure are between 10 am and 2 pm, direct exposure during this period should be minimized.

Keeping the skin moist and preventing it from drying out is also an important part of keeping your skin healthy. Moisturizing after a shower or bath is optimal, since the pores of the skin will more readily absorb the cream or lotion. Avoiding dehydration is an important part of keeping your skin looking healthy. This includes drinking lots of water and minimizing diuretics such as alcohol.

Finally, nothing is more detrimental to the skin as smoking. Not only does it directly cause damage to the collagen, it also magnifies and worsens the damage caused by UV light.

So, enjoy your summer, but remember these few tips for keeping your skin healthy and looking great.