With the warm weather upon us, many Montanans answer summer’s call by spending time in the great outdoors under the sun. However, repeated sun exposure has been linked to painful sunburns, skin cancer and is the number one cause of premature aging. It is important to protect your skin from the harmful and painful effects of the sun by following the simple preventative steps listed below.

Staying out of the sun when it’s the strongest, wearing protective clothing, and putting on sunscreen are your best bets to avoiding sunburns. Reduce your time in direct sunlight — the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and even cloudy skies can cause sunburns because up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays can pass through clouds. Wearing protective clothing — such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses and large-brimmed hats — and carrying an umbrella for instant shade offer protection, too. There are even sun protective swimwear and clothing available with SPF (sun protective factor) built in. Make sure your sunglasses have ultraviolet lenses to protect your eyes. Polarized sunglasses are best if you are exposed to frequent high-glare situations, such as spending excessive time on the water.

Earth-friendly and natural sunscreens are your best options for sunscreens since many contain harmful chemicals that are easily absorbed through the skin. Aim for a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15 or more. Sunscreens that are labeled “wide spectrum” or “water resistant” offer more protection. Be diligent though, and re-apply sunscreen every two hours or whenever you are exposed to water or are excessively sweating. Don’t forget about your lips either, as they contain minute amounts of melanin (the skin’s natural protective pigment from light) and are especially susceptible to burns. Try to find a lip balm that contains no gloss and has a SPF of 15 or more.

Check the Environmental Working Group’s website at www.ewg.org/sunscreen/ for their 2017 Guide to Sunscreens to determine how to select the safest and most effective sunscreen for your outdoor needs.

There are even dietary options to help protect your skin from the sun’s rays. Adding tomatoes to your diet has been proven beneficial since tomatoes contain high levels of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has shown it helps reduce the harmful effects of sun exposure in controlled trials. So add in tomatoes and tomato-based drinks into your diet for an extra sun-protective boost.

Adding vitamin C and vitamin E for short periods of time has been shown to protect the skin from sun damage, too. These vitamins are powerful antioxidants that can protect the skin because they have the ability to reduce the free radicals produced by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Aim for a combination of 2,000 mg of vitamin C and 1,000 IU of vitamin E daily for a short period of time (four to six weeks).

So despite your best efforts to prevent sunburns, sometimes Mother Nature still wins. The expressed juice of the aloe vera plant is especially beneficial for soothing and cooling sunburns and reduces redness of the skin when applied topically to broken or unbroken skin. Apply aloe vera to sunburns and let dry. Re-apply as often as needed to help heal your burnt skin. Avoid direct sunlight and let your skin heal.

As you can see there are many ways to take a proactive approach to help protect your skin. Enjoy your fun in the sun, Billings!

Jennifer Krieger, ND, sees patients at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic.