Here comes the summer sun, signaling time for outdoor enjoyment, family fun—and careful protection against lasting damage to your skin. Even when it’s cloudy, you need sunscreen, regardless of what else you apply. Enjoy your warm-weather days and stay safe at the same time.
Timing is everything
Sun exposure maximizes during the peak period between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. During that time, you’re at your greatest risk of damaging exposure. UVA rays can cause wrinkles, cell damage, and skin cancer. They penetrate farther than UVB rays, which cause sunburn.
You know how to recognize sunburn, but did you realize your eyes can get it, too? It’s called photokeratitis, and it’s something you definitely want to avoid. Too much UV exposure risks cataracts and cancer, along with growths on your eyes. Sunglasses with full UVA and UVB protection keep you protected, but the rays still get through around your lenses – even on a cloudy day, which only blocks about 20% of UVA and UVB. In fact, you can get a wicked sunburn in the winter, too, especially thanks to reflections off snow.
Add a wide-brimmed sun hat and stay in the shade whenever you can. Make these protective habits part of your kids’ routine as well, with good education about how cool it is to take good care of your eyes. Research also connects the dots between overexposure to the sun and nearsightedness, so building good habits makes lifelong sense.
The myth of skin tone
Everyone reacts to sun exposure, regardless of where you fall on the continuum from light to dark skin coloration. Every instance of sunburn raises your risk of skin cancer and premature aging, as ultraviolet rays damage the elastin fibers that keep your skin taut and youthful. You also can develop freckles, roughness, discoloration and enlargement of the tiny blood vessels under the skin. Don’t assume that just because you tan rather than burn, or have naturally dark skin, you’re protected from harm.
Pick the right sunscreen
You’ve seen sun protection factor, or SPF, listed on sunscreen products, but do you know what these figures actually mean? The numbers correlate with the extent to which a product filters out UV rays. At SPF 30, the minimum recommended coverage, you’re protected from about 97% of UVB; to get to 99%, look for SPF 100. That might not sound like a big difference, but every bit of protection counts. Look for products labeled “broad spectrum” to get the fullest benefits.
Apply, apply, apply
Sunscreen only works if you put it on every bit of exposed skin, including your scalp if you shave your head or are losing your hair. Don’t neglect your ears and feet, and pick up a lip balm enhanced with appropriate SPF so you can take care of your mouth as well.
Read the directions on your sunscreen product and follow them carefully. Verify how much water resistance your sunscreen offers, and add more after a dip in the waves or pool. Keep track of time so you can stay protected. Follow the recommendations for reapplication at specific intervals, typically every two hours out of the water or 40-80 minutes in it. Step up the reapplication schedule if you’re sweating heavily, too.
You’ll want to put on your protection at least half an hour before you go outside, and if it’s a spray-on product instead of a lotion, be sure to rub it in for even coverage.
Watch out for heat stroke
The hotter you get, the greater your risk of hyperthermia and heat stroke, especially for older adults. To avoid potential harm, skip heavy exercise at midday, and drink constantly to avoid dehydration. If you feel nauseated, dizzy, and tired, your head starts to ache, or you experience muscle spasms, your body’s telling you to get into the shade, drink a lot of water, and cool off your skin with a shower or sponge bath.
Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention. Body temperature spikes above 104°F, and symptoms range from fainting and staggering to confusion, belligerence, a quick and pounding pulse, failure to sweat, and even lapsing into a coma. This is call-911 territory, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Baby your baby
Little ones need special care to protect their delicate skin. For children under the age of six months, skip the lotions and use a combination of natural shade, screens, and loose-fitted clothing with long sleeves and full legs. Remember that white garments offer little, if any, sun protection, especially if they get wet. Invest in a car shade to minimize sun exposure, and add one to your stroller as well.
An ounce of prevention
Take a few simple precautions, and your summer can stay in fun territory. If you’re digging in the cabinet right now for what’s left of last year’s sunscreen, remember that these products lose their potency with age. You’re better off starting fresh.
Show us how you’re staying safe in the sun this year—and remember, tag #HancockHealthChallenge when you share your photos!