Follow these sun safety guidelines to protect your family from sunburn and skin damage this summer.
By Dr. S. George Kipa
Participating in outdoor activities is a great way to stay active during the summer. However, it also leads to increased sun exposure. Without proper protection, adults and children are vulnerable to a variety of short- and long-term skin, eye and immune system issues. Just a few serious sunburns can increase the risk of health problems such as cataracts and skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and also one of the most preventable. Here are a few sun safety guidelines that can reduce your family’s risk of skin damage and other sun-related health hazards.
Check the Index
The negative effects of sun exposure are attributed to ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface through two types of rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA rays penetrate to the deepest level of the skin, while UVB rays are typically responsible for surface-level sunburns. Both classes are known to contribute to the development of skin cancer. As UV radiation is not related to temperature, it is still possible to get sunburned on a deceivingly cool and cloudy day. The Environmental Protection Agency provides a daily forecast of the expected UV intensity in your area. Check this index with the weather forecast every day to stay informed and prepare accordingly.
Spread on Sunscreen
Sunscreens shield skin by absorbing and reflecting UV rays. The sun protection factor of these products indicates the relative amount of defense provided against UVB rays. Some brands, classified as broad-spectrum, protect the wearer from both UVA and UVB rays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. Remember that sunscreen wears off and must be reapplied at least every two hours, as well as after swimming, sweating or towel drying.
In addition to using sunscreen, clothing and accessories are an important barrier to protect skin from harmful overexposure. Long sleeves and skirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are encouraged. Sunglasses that wrap around and have the American Optometric Association’s Seal of Acceptance are ideal. These glasses block 99 to 100 percent of UV radiation. Keep in mind that a standard, colored T-shirt has an SPF of less than 15 and this value decreases when clothing is wet.
Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible. This is especially important during the peak hours of the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the World Health Organization estimates UV radiation is at its strongest. Seek shelter under an umbrella, tree or canopy.
Heat and high activity levels can contribute to rapid water loss, and kids are especially susceptible to dehydration. To prevent heat-related illnesses, make sure the family drinks plenty of water throughout the day. Another way to stay hydrated is to consume water-rich foods such as grapefruit, watermelon and lettuce. These healthy options are made up of more than 90 percent water.
Unprotected skin can be damaged by UV radiation in as little as 15 minutes, but it may take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect. It’s probably time to head inside if you notice the skin turning slightly pink, as this may become a more severe burn later. Also watch out for fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth and less-frequent urination, which can be symptoms of dehydration or other heat-related illnesses.
Dr. S. George Kipa is a deputy chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.