Protect yourself from UV rays while working in the garden. ATTRIBUTION: Flickr; David Goehring

Protect yourself from UV rays while working in the garden. ATTRIBUTION: Flickr; David Goehring

Gardening is a popular pastime, but it doesn’t come without its dangers. It’s vital to protect yourself from the sun while outdoors to prevent sun damage to your skin. Melanin is the dark brown pigment in the epidermis, or top layer of skin. This pigment is what gives the skin its color and what protects the deeper layers of skin from sun damage.

It only takes a short amount of time in the sun to experience reddening of the skin, also known as sunburn. Repeated, long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays can have permanent effects on the skin, causing the connective tissues to break down. As collagen and elastin fibers weaken, the skin loses its strength and flexibility.

Over time, unprotected sun exposure can cause the skin to appear dry, discolored, wrinkled, and leathery. The skin may thicken and bruise more easily, and in severe cases, skin cancer can develop. Fortunately, there are numerous things you can do to protect yourself while in the sun. Here’s a look at some effective ways to protect yourself from the sun while gardening.

1. Wear Sunscreen

One of the easiest ways to protect your skin from harmful UV rays is to wear at least a 15 sun protection factor (SPF) product, which blocks about 94 percent of UVB rays. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays. If working in your garden for long periods of time, don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen every few hours.

2. Cover Up

Dark, tightly-woven materials absorb more ultraviolet light than cotton fabrics made in lighter colors. When gardening, stick to light colors and cover up when the sun’s rays are the most intense, between 10 AM and 4 PM.

3. Put on a Hat

Broad-brimmed hats can help shield the sensitive skin on your face, head and neck from UV-ray exposure. Wearing a hat when the sun is beating down can also keep you cooler.

4. Sport Sunglasses

A pair of UV-blocking sunglasses can protect your eyes from dangerous sun rays. UV rays have been linked to the development of cataracts, which causes a clouding of the lens of the eye. If you wear regular eyeglasses, consider a pair of tinted lenses.

5. Apply Zinc Oxide Paste

The bridge of the nose and the tops of your feet are highly sensitive to sunlight and require extra protection. Apply a coat of zinc oxide paste to these areas and allow it soak in for several minutes before heading outside.

6. Limit Exposure

Your gardening tasks should be done at certain times of the day if possible to avoid intense sun rays. The early morning before 10 AM and any time after 4 PM is best. Look at your shadow if you’re unsure. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

7. Seek Shade

When possible, move your gardening tasks to shaded areas. If the sun becomes too much, don’t hesitate to move indoors or to a cooler environment out of the sun’s direct light.

8. Check the UV Index

Check online or on the Weather Channel for the day’s UV index forecast. Knowing the UV index forecast can help you better plan out your outdoor activities and prevent sun overexposure.

9. Get a Checkup

Once a year, visit your dermatologist for a complete body scan. During this checkup, your dermatologist can check for signs of skin cancer, such as irregular-shaped moles or odd discoloration.