UV Safety Habits for Your Eyes and Skin

UV rays can be dangerous for your eyes and skin. However, research now shows that some sun exposure is good for us! How do we navigate underexposure and overexposure during the summer months when we’re most vulnerable? The month of July is UV Awareness Month, so let’s take a closer look at UV safety to ensure both ourselves and our loved ones are safe in the sun.

What exactly are UV rays?

The “UV” in UV rays is short for “ultraviolet”. These ultraviolet rays are electromagnetic radiation that is emitted from the sun. The two types of UV rays that pose the highest risk to your safety are ultraviolet A rays (UVA) and ultraviolet B rays (UVB).

UVA rays and UVB rays affect us in different ways. UVA rays penetrate the skin and eyes more deeply and play a greater role in macular degeneration, premature skin aging, and wrinkle formation. UVB rays affect the cornea and lens in the shallow part of the eye by damaging tissue, contributing to the formation of cataracts. Despite their differences, overexposure to both types of rays can cause sunburn and contribute to the development of skin cancer, including periocular skin cancer, a form of skin cancer that occurs in the eye and along the delicate eye area. Luckily there are multiple ways we can protect both our eyes and skin from the negative effects of UV rays!

Protect your eyes with sunglasses.

UV rays are forever present outside during daylight hours, regardless of weather or the season. However, we are most vulnerable during the summer months, when UV indexes are high and much of our time is spent outdoors. The first—and arguably the most important—thing we can do to protect our eyes from the sun is wear sunglasses outdoors. Sunglass lenses block out UV radiation (both UVA and UVB rays) to provide protection for your eyes and the sensitive skin surrounding your eyes, which often gets neglected when we apply sunscreen.

But don’t just purchase any sunglasses! Polarized lenses offer your eyes the maximum amount of UV protection. Their unique chemical film coating reduces exposure to harmful UV rays by filtering out reflected light from smooth surfaces, such as water at the beach or pool. Polarized lenses also increase color vibrancy, contrast, and can reduce symptoms associated with eye strain in relation to light sensitivity.


“The right sunglasses possess superpowers! Polarized lenses protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation, they can take you to the next level of coolness, and they can enhance your overall visual experience!” – Joanne Harris, Director of Optical Services with Wilmington Eye


While non-polarized lenses typically offer similar levels of protection against harmful UV rays, they do not reduce reflective glare in the same way. For this reason, we recommend polarized lenses when spending longer amounts of time outdoors.

If you have questions about proper eye protection from the sun, visit one of our six optical shops to speak with a North Carolina-licensed optician. We offer a variety of polarized (and non-polarized) sunglasses that provide protection from UV rays. Our opticians can help you select the right pair for your lifestyle needs.

Now that we know how to protect our eyes, let’s discuss how to equally protect our skin from excessive sun exposure.


Beyond SPF: How to protect our skin from UV rays.

We all know that SPF is essential in protecting our skin from the sun. But sometimes, particularly during the peak hours of 10am – 4pm, additional healthy sun habits are needed. When it comes to taking care of your skin, you can never be too careful. Our cosmetics and oculoplastic surgeon, Dr. Molly Orban, provides the best guidance when it comes to caring for your skin in every season and stage of life.


“If I could give my patients one piece of advice for this time of year in terms of skin care, it would be to protect your skin from the sun. Not only does sun exposure put you at risk for having skin cancers, but it accelerates the signs of aging and can worsen unsightly wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and rosacea. Using sunscreen daily is an excellent habit to make yours, and I would recommend even more protection with a wide-brimmed hat and reapplication of sunscreens when in direct sun exposure.” – Molly Orban, MD and Oculoplastic Surgeon with Wilmington Eye


Here are some additional tips to further elevate your UV safety efforts:

  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure
  • Reapply sunscreen every hour that you are in the sun
  • Bring shade with you when you plan on spending extended hours in the sun
  • Never look directly at the sun
  • Avoid looking at reflective surfaces like still water (or snow in winter months)

For SPF protection, our oculoplastic surgeons recommend Obagi Sun Shield SPF 50, which combines UVB and UVA protection in an elegant, matte finish. Sun Shield is both non-comedogenic (meaning it will not clog your pores) and dermatologist tested. Obagi Sun Shield is available for purchase at our main location on New Hanover Medical Park Drive and Wilmington Eye’s Oculoplastic Center on Medical Center Drive, with no prescription needed. In addition to these healthy sun habits, there are other ways we can increase our skin protection, starting with our daily skincare regimen.

Other skincare tips for the summer.

Certain skincare and self-care activities can also increase our vulnerability to the sun’s rays. Laser skin resurfacing and chemical peels are extremely effective at addressing sunspots, wrinkles, and other forms of skin imperfections. However, it is imperative that patients avoid the sun during the 2+ week recovery period. Your skin is especially vulnerable during this time, meaning the sun must either be avoided altogether, or shielded with SPF 30 or higher and protective clothing.

Similar guidelines apply when using certain active ingredients in your skincare regimen such as hydroquinone, retinoids, and tretinoin. While these ingredients can drastically improve your skin’s complexion, your sun exposure should be limited while using them.

Hydroquinone is a skin lightening agent used for treating hyperpigmentation and melasma by fading freckles, sunspots, and acne over time.

Retinoids, such as tretinoin, are known for increasing cell turnover by boosting the natural process of shedding dead skin cells to reveal new, rejuvenated layers of skin. This process helps repair DNA damage caused by past sun exposure, while also boosting collagen and elastin production to improve skin texture.

Hydroquinone, retinoids, and tretinoin all provide transformative results and can drastically reduce the appearance of sun damage. However, these powerhouse ingredients also greatly increase your skin’s photosensitivity to the sun, and therefore should only be applied during your nighttime skincare regimen. Your morning skincare routine should include washing your face to remove any remaining active ingredients from the night before, followed by application of an SPF 30 or higher with full UVA/UVB protection.

For professional advice about healthy skincare routines and cosmetic procedures to address skin imperfections, schedule your cosmetic consultation to speak with one of our experts about how to achieve your aesthetic goals and care for your skin.

UV rays aren’t all bad; a little goes a long way!

Research is now suggesting that some sun exposure is necessary in the production of Vitamin D, an essential function for maintaining a healthy immune system and blood cell formation. Sunlight exposure also plays a key role in childhood development. The American Academy of Ophthalmology cited a study which suggests outdoor activity in moderate sunlight may decrease the progression of myopia (nearsightedness) in children. UV radiation has also been known to successfully treat conditions like rickets, psoriasis, eczema, and jaundice.

So, how much is too much time in the sun? The World Health Organization defines a healthy amount of sun exposure as 5 – 15 minutes of exposure to hands, face, and arms 2 – 3 times per week to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Slightly less exposure is needed for those who live closer to the equator.

Regardless of these findings, it is still widely believed that the risks of UV exposure often outweigh the benefits. This is why we advise practicing safe habits any time you enjoy outdoor activities in the sun. Precautions like SPF, sunglasses, and understanding how your regular skincare and self-care activities affect your skin’s reaction to UV rays ensures you and your loved ones can enjoy the sun and summer activities safely!