Why Sun Safety Shouldn't Just Be a Summer Concern?
It’s still summer, but if you’ve been shopping lately you might have seen Halloween candy on the shelves already. Seems silly, but it’s not far away. The leaves haven’t even turned yet, but pretty soon you’ll be raking all those colors off your lawn.
For now, the sun is still hot and bright. But as summer dwindles and fall arrives, we all start putting our summer items away. One thing you want to keep readily available and accessible is your sunscreen. You may have experienced a surprise September sunburn when you weren’t even thinking about the sun. You are at risk of harmful sun damage year ‘round. It’s important to set a good example for our children as well as protect ourselves.
Year ‘Round Sunshine
Fall and winter activities can expose us to the sun’s rays and cause damage when we wouldn’t necessarily expect it. Get lost in a corn maze and you might come out red-faced from the sun as well as embarrassment. Winter activities like snowshoeing and ice fishing expose you to open areas where the white snow can reflect the sun’s rays and cause harm to your eyes and skin.
And you don’t just have to worry when you’re out having fun in the sun. People who work outside need to respect the sun and take precautions year ‘round. If you frequently sit by a window that gets a lot of sunshine, you’re exposing yourself to potentially harmful rays.
Adults who have lost some or all of their hair are particularly vulnerable to sun damage. Whether you have a favorite hat or hate wearing hats, it’s essential that you wear one — winter, spring, summer and fall.
The reality is that the older we are, the more sun we have been exposed to — and the more we’ve been burned. The more we get burned, the greater our risk of developing skin cancer. It’s important that we examine our skin regularly and pay attention to any unusual changes.
If you notice a mole which has changed in size or shape in the last month, see your primary care physician or make an appointment with a dermatologist. Make sure you doctor checks your skin thoroughly in your regular checkups — and bring any changes to their attention.
We think of the sunshine as a singular, but it contains three different ultraviolet rays— UVA, UVB and UVC. These ultraviolet rays only account for a small percentage of the shining sun, but they damage our skin the most, causing sun spots and the production of cancerous cells.
UVA rays are to blame for the cracks and wrinkles we get in our faces after overexposure. UVB rays are what give us the red sunburns and skin cancer. UVC rays, you rarely hear about, because they often don’t make it through our atmosphere.
However, you still have to protect yourself, as all three ultraviolet rays can cause damage to our skin. The World Health Organization reports that between 2 to 3 million people get non-melanoma skin cancers each year. In that same year 130,000 are diagnosed with malignant tumors.
We don’t usually associate sunshine with such dark news, but it’s important to take the threat seriously and to protect yourself with a good broad spectrum sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen. Find one in a scent you like or one made by your favorite brand, so you will be more likely to use it. The Skin Cancer Foundation states tatt it only takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to be burned by the sun. It has happened to all of us. We either forgot to use sunscreen or decided we didn’t need it that day.
Cloudy days can be deceiving. We have all heard you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day. Most of us don’t believe it and have some story to “prove” it. Others have suffered the consequences and can attest to the truth about cloudy days.
The Skin Cancer Foundation states that about 40% of the ultraviolet rays still make it through to us on a cloudy or overcast day. So get in and stay in the habit of applying sunscreen if you are going to spend any extended length of time outside. Sunscreen can’t completely protect you from the sun, but it can help substantially.
SPF 15 blocks up to 93 percent of the ultraviolet rays, SPF 50 up to 98 percent. If you are going to be in the direct sun, make sure to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day. Be especially cognizant if you are at the beach or a pool where it may get washed off. Sunscreens claim to be water proof, but water and sweat will make them wear off over time. You don’t want to make an initial effort and still end up burned by day’s end.
Don’t Treat It — Prevent It
Don’t wait until you get fried to do something about the effects of the sun. Aloe gel and certain lotions can be quite soothing, but by the time you apply them, it’s already too late. Wear sunscreen and make sure it’s rated at a protection factor of SPF 30 or higher.
Better yet, keep your skin covered whenever practical. Obviously, you want to enjoy the outdoors — you just don't want to suffer as a result. Rather than rely on sunscreen, cover up and wear a wide-brimmed hat when possible. Avoid the sun’s rays when they’re the most intense, which is sometime between 10am and 2pm.
When using sunscreen, don’t neglect the parts that usually get burned the worst. Your ears, nose, neck and cheeks are often a little trickier to cover, but they need to be protected. Spray sunscreen is great for arms and legs, but it’s tough to spray yourself in the face. Use sunscreen glide stick or just pour it from the bottle. Always use liberal amounts and refresh throughout the day.
Limit tanning and sunbathing. Yes, it feels great to be out in the sun. It brightens our mood. But purposely exposing your entire body to the direct sunshine for long periods of time can lead to health problems. First and foremost, you risk getting sunburned. With sunburn comes an increased risk of getting melanoma.
The sun also prematurely ages your skin. You can identify people who have spent too many of their summers sun tanning. Their skin is leathery and rough. Their faces are prematurely wrinkled and aged. It’s a personal decision to make, but having a nice tan isn’t worth getting cancer or looking older than you are.
Protect Your Children
How many times have you sent your kids off to play only to have them return happy but beet red? It’s easy to forget or not even realize how much sun they’re exposed to when playing outside. Sun does provide much-needed Vitamin D, but they’ll get those benefits long before they get burned. It’s an ongoing, year-round concern — and it only takes a few wriggling minutes to get sunscreen on them.
Playgrounds are great fun and most children can amuse themselves there for hours. They’re also dangerous environments for sun exposure. Playgrounds are wide open areas with play structures that rise into the air. Since spaces are consumed by play equipment, there isn’t as much shade to offer breaks from the sun.
In addition to sunburn, the sun’s rays can make playground equipment quite hot. Dark metal structures conduct the most heat and are the worst offenders. But plastic equipment can get hot, too. Be sure to check slides, merry-go-rounds and other structures before subjecting your kids to potential non-sun-related burns.
The same precautions you observe as an adult also apply to your children. Use liberal amounts of sunscreen, but also keep your child covered up as best you can. Drink lots of water and take breaks in any available shade throughout the day.
Children often get so excited and so focused on playing that they don’t realize how tired, hot, thirsty or hungry they are. Keep a supply of healthy snacks such as orange slices, grapes, granola bars and trail mix.
Have fun at the playground. Have fun outside year ‘round. You don’t need to spend every moment worrying. But some simple precautions and preventative measures can make your outdoor activities enjoyable — and free from sunburn, dehydration, fainting and other heat-related illnesses.