With the number of cloudy and rainy days we see in Western Washington, it is no surprise that most of us like to make the most of sunny weather. Sunny days are glorious, and there are many ways to enjoy the sun, whether gardening or relaxing at home, taking a walk on Percival Landing, swimming at Millersylvania State Park, or riding a bike on the Chehalis-Western Trail.
Getting outdoors has many health benefits, such as fresh air, physical activity and reducing stress. But, as you get outside, remember to take steps to protect your health, and specifically your skin.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Development of melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer — on the back, chest and legs is linked to frequent sunburns.
Skin cancers begin when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the DNA that controls skin cell growth. The best way to lower your risk for melanoma and other skin cancers is to limit exposure to UV rays.
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Here are some tips for sun safety:
▪ Wear a hat and cover skin when possible. Clothing offers different levels of UV ray protection. Darker and more tightly woven fabrics offer more protection than lighter colors and loosely woven fabrics.
▪ Choose the shade. You can still enjoy the sun when you are in the shade. When spending time outside, find a shady spot to settle down in and then your group can go back and forth between the sun and shade.
▪ Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink water when spending time outside in the heat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Kids should always have water or a sports drink available and take a break to drink every 20 minutes while active in the heat.”
Be aware of signs of heat exhaustion such as heavy sweating, weakness, nausea, fainting and cold, pale, clammy skin. If you experience heat exhaustion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend you move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen clothes, sip water and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible. If you experience vomiting, seek medical attention.
▪ Choose effective sunscreens. The most effective sunscreens are SPF 30 or higher lotions. Spray sunscreens often blow away in the wind and miss the skin. Aerosol sprays also can be harmful to the lungs, especially for people with asthma and other lung conditions, small children and the elderly.
▪ Understand SPFs. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. A higher SPF means more UVB ray protection. SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 sunscreens filter about 98 percent. Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against UVA and UVB rays) and with SPF 30 or higher are recommended by the American Cancer Society.
▪ Re-apply sunscreen often. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming and sweating.
▪ Check sunscreen expiration dates. Most sunscreens last for two to three years. If it is past the expiration date, it is time for new sunscreen. Sunscreens that have been exposed to heat for long periods of time (such as being left in a car) may be less effective that the label indicates.
Getting outside and being active is part of a healthy lifestyle. The Thurston Thrives Community Design Action Team continues to work to create opportunities for our community to be more active in our daily lives.
I am looking forward to hiking and getting out on the water this summer; it’s a great time to experience all that the outdoors offers. However you choose to enjoy the sun and the warmth that summer brings, please remember to practice sun safety.
Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, co.thurston.wa.us/health, @ThurstonHealth on Twitter, or facebook.com/ThurstonHealth.