Those who work outside are exposed to many hazards every day, including ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In addition to causing premature wrinkles and sunspots, excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
According to the latest statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and costs an estimated $8.1 billion annually. Due to the nature of their occupation, outdoor workers are at an especially high risk of sun damage and skin cancer.
If you work outdoors, protecting your skin from the sun should be a priority. With the following sun safety tips, you can keep your skin healthy and protected while working outside.
1. Apply Sunscreen Year Round
It’s much easier to remember to apply sunscreen when it’s bright and sunny outside. However, it’s equally important that you apply sunscreen on cloudy and overcast days as well.
Though you may not see the sun’s harmful UV rays or even feel them, they can penetrate through clouds and damage your skin. This false sense of security is why many outdoor workers often experience severe sunburns on overcast days.
To avoid getting sunburned, protect your face each day by applying a daily moisturizer with SPF before you leave for work. If any other parts of your body are exposed, remember to apply sunscreen to your skin and re-apply as needed.
2. Learn How to Apply Sunscreen Correctly
You may know the importance of sunscreen, but are you applying it correctly? As it turns out, most people don’t understand how SPF works or how much they need to apply.
In a 2018 study published in Acta Dermato Venereologica, researchers found that most people are applying roughly a third the amount of sunscreen that’s recommended by manufacturers.
To protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer, make sure that you’re applying sunscreen the right way with these tips:
- Coat your entire body with a generous amount. When a sunscreen product’s SPF is tested in labs, the amount used is 2 mg of lotion per square inch of skin. To reap the full protection offered by your sunscreen, aim to use this amount, which is about the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen for your entire body.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside. For maximum sun protection, it’s best to apply your sunscreen product at least 30 minutes prior to going outside. This will give the ingredients in your sunscreen time to sink in and fully protect your skin.
- Re-apply every two hours. Even the best broad-spectrum sunscreen will break down over time. Be sure to re-apply every two hours—sooner if you’re swimming or sweating a lot.
3. Take Regular Breaks
The time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is when UV rays are at their strongest. You can usually tell when the sun’s rays are at their most intense by looking at your shadow: If your shadow is shorter than you, the intensity of the sun’s UV rays is more likely to cause sunburn.
During this time, it’s important to seek shade as much as possible. Though regulations regarding work breaks will vary by state, the majority of employers provide rest and meal breaks for their employees. Use them to your advantage by getting out of the sun.
Spend as much time as you can in the shade before returning to work. This is also a good time to re-apply your sunscreen.
4. Wear Long-Sleeved Shirts and Long Pants
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants do more than just protect you from the sun’s UV rays. If you’re wandering through fields and wooded areas, the extra fabric will also go a long way in preventing allergic reactions caused by poisonous plants and insect bites.
Though you may be able to identify poison ivy, it’s easy to brush up against poisonous plants without realizing it. The same can be said for insects and other venomous creatures.
Besides, it never hurts to have additional protection from fleas, ticks and mosquitos. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted a rise in tickborne illnesses such as Lyme disease. By adding an extra layer of fabric between you and disease-carrying insects, you can enhance your protection against bug bites—and subsequently, rash and disease.
5. Don the Right Gear
Getting clothes that completely cover your body is not always enough to block the sun’s UV rays. To ensure that you’re fully protected, consider buying a few sets of UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing designed to add an extra layer of protection.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to buy a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp and face. UV protective sunglasses are also a must-have accessory for outdoor workers and can reduce the risk of skin cancer in and around the eye (known as ocular melanoma).
6. Know How to Recognize and Treat a Severe Sunburn
If you or a coworker is unfortunate enough to experience a severe sunburn, it helps to know how to treat it properly. Unlike the typical pain and redness of a mild to moderate sunburn, severe sunburns can be incredibly painful and may cause blistering.
Treating this type of sunburn requires you to seek shade immediately and to cool down the skin with a cold compress. From there, you can apply aloe vera gel to the sunburn and take an over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the sting.
If you or your coworker feels nauseous, dizzy, confused or feverish, it may be a case of sun poisoning. For severe reactions involving these symptoms, seeking medical attention is strongly recommended.
7. Practicing Sun Safety at Work Pays Off
If you spend most or even just part of your shift outdoors, it pays to take care of your skin. The consequences of excessive sun exposure typically appear later as we age, often in the form of sun damage, premature wrinkles and potentially skin cancer.
By following these tips and taking steps to protect your skin right now, you’ll thank yourself later down the road.