After spending a long winter indoors, you, like so many of us, may be in a rush to soak up the beautiful summer sunshine. While it is great to get fresh air and spend time outdoors, there are some things to keep in mind to stay safe during those hot summer months. Over the summer, we are exposing ourselves to tremendous amounts of sun and heat, which can have negative effects on the body if not properly controlled. While some effects can be truly harmful, adhering to the following precautions can greatly reduce the chance of developing a negative reaction.
First, let’s talk about the sun. Too much sun exposure can weaken your skin and cause wrinkles and mottled pigmentation. Additionally, ultraviolet (UV) light exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer. According to the CDC, skin cancer effects almost five million people per year in the U.S., with cases rising every year. UV light damages the DNA in our skin cells, and when those damaged cells grow and divide, they can cause cancer. Damage can occur with as little as 15 minutes of exposure. The good news is it can be prevented. During the summer months, it is important to develop proper sun safety habits in order to reduce UV exposure and protect your skin from damage and possibly developing skin cancer.
Limit direct sun exposure by avoiding the outdoors between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is the strongest. If outdoors, seek shade as often as possible. Wear long sleeves and pants or skirts that can act as a barrier between the sun and your skin. Tightly woven fabrics are the best choice, with darker colors offering more protection that lighter ones. Wet clothing does not offer as much protection as dry clothing. A hat with a wide brim that goes all the way around the head can also offer protection. Sunglasses that have both UVA and UVB protection can provide protection for your eyes. Sunscreen should always be applied at least 15 minutes before going out, even on a seemingly cloudy day. Sunscreen should be broad-spectrum and have an SPF of at least 15. Most sunscreens do not guarantee coverage for more than 80 minutes so reapply as necessary. Reapplication is also recommended after swimming or excessive sweating. Checking your skin regularly is also important and be sure to contact your dermatologist if there are any abnormalities.
It is very important to know your skin type and to understand what type of protection will work best for you. If you are pale and tend to get red or break out in freckles from the sun, you are at greater risk for sun damage; multiple layers of protection may be necessary.
Now let’s discuss the heat. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause the body to stop functioning properly, which can lead to heat stroke and other debilitating heat-related issues. Staying properly hydrated is key to avoiding these problems. Water has a cooling effect in the body, which can help you maintain proper body temperature even in high heat. Water also helps the body pump blood more efficiently, so your heart does not have to put in the extra work when your body is already tired from the heat. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, men need 15.5 cups of fluid per day and women need 11.5 cups of fluid per day to remain adequately hydrated. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink, especially if you are outdoors. Make sure that you are consistently drinking throughout the day. Note that not all drinks will hydrate you the same – drinks with a lot of sugar or alcohol can actually cause dehydration. Water is always the best option.
Written by Michelle Tessler, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.