Stay safe this summer

Published 11:53 am Tuesday, July 19, 2022

It’s now officially summer. If you recently read my article “Into the Forest, I Go,” you know I love spending time outdoors. After all, most of us enjoy the lift in spirits and a boost in Vitamin D that a sunny day brings. And if you appreciate the outdoors, you likely relish swimming, gardening, hiking, and other physical outdoor activities. However, with the health benefits that come with that lifestyle, I take precautions to protect my skin from the damaging effects of the sun.

 

Overexposure to the sun causes skin aging, wrinkles, leathery skin, eye damage, and skin cancer.

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Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and it’s rising. But did you know the cause of most skin cancers is exposure to ultraviolet light? Everyday UV light sources are the sun, sunlamps, and tanning beds. UVA radiation is generally responsible for skin aging, wrinkles, and some skin cancers. At the same time, UVB radiation is largely responsible for skin cancer.

 

A widely held misconception is that we need only worry about UV exposure during sunny days in the summer months, when, in fact, all 4 seasons- whether bright, cloudy, cool, or hot – bring with them a risk of exposure to UV radiation. And the reflection of UV light from water, sand, snow, and cement also leaves us vulnerable. Who knew?

 

With just a little preparation and advanced planning, we can protect our skin. Begin with the weather report. When the forecast is predicting the UV index to be three or higher, it’s time to:

 

  • Stay in the shade. 
  • Wear protective clothing made of a tightly-woven fabric of a darker color. 
  • Wear a full-brimmed hat that offers shade to your face, ears, and the back of the neck. 
  • Wear wrap-around, UV400-rated sunglasses to block 99% of UVA and UVB radiation. 
  • Protect your skin with sunscreen

 

Things to remember when using sunscreen:

 

  • Not all sunscreens are created equal. While all sunscreens will help prevent sunburn, only a broad-spectrum sunscreen will reduce the risk of skin aging and skin cancer. SPF 30 filters out 97% of the UVB radiation.

 

  • Thirty minutes before going outdoors, cover all exposed skin with sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

 

  • Sunscreens are not water or sweatproof and must be reapplied every 40 to 80 minutes to remain effective.

 

  • Sunscreen is not recommended for infants under the age of six months.

 

WAYS TO PREVENT SUN DAMAGE

 

To prevent sun damage, limit your time in the sun to mornings and evenings, when the sun is less harmful. You should also limit your tanning—there is no safe tanning. And contrary to the myth, indoor tanning is not a safer alternative and may lead to a higher risk of melanoma. Remember to check your medications. Some antibiotics and psychiatric drugs carry a severe side effect of photosensitivity.

 

When I run through the archives in my mind of summer memories, visions of ice cream trucks, summer cookouts, family reunions, running through sprinklers, and lazy afternoons come flooding back. Now that I’m older, I love watching the sun rise and set from my porch, listening to the breeze caressing the leaves on the trees and the murmur of the nearby stream.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said of summer, “Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink in the wild air.” 

 

That is exquisite wisdom phrased in just a few words. But may I add, “do it safely.” When enjoying nature this summer, combine protective clothing, a brimmed hat, and wrap-around UV400 sunglasses, and use broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen.

 

Enjoy your summer, my friends.

 

If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org.