July and August are the hottest months of the year. That’s when the amount of solar energy hitting the earth is at its peak. Many people like to be active outdoors during these hot, humid months: taking vacations, enjoying backyard barbecues, visiting the beach or simply strolling through our neighborhoods. But we must protect ourselves from the scorching summer sun.
August is Summer Sun Safety Month, so let’s explore some ways to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors this month.
Everyone knows that exposure to the sun is a risk factor for skin cancer, so cover as much of your skin as possible to limit that exposure. Wear slacks and a long-sleeved shirt made of material that blocks sunlight to protect your arms and legs. A wide-brimmed hat will shade your face, ears and head as well as the back of your neck. Always wear sunglasses with full UVA and UVB protection to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays.
You should use sunscreen every day of the year, but it’s most important to use sunscreen during the summer months, when the sun’s rays are strongest. The American Cancer Society offers tips for selecting a sunscreen. Here are a few highlights:
- Choose a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection. These products protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Select a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 filter out about 97 percent of harmful UVB rays.
- “Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” No sunscreen is waterproof. For best results, reapply sunscreen every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
Don’t forget your lips. Use a lip balm containing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Even if you follow these recommendations, the sunscreen you choose will be less effective if you don’t use it properly. Here are a few sunscreen tips from the publication Summer Sun Essentials: Foolproof Tips for Staying Safe in the Sun to help you get the best protection:
- Always rub in spray-on sunscreen. If you don’t, you’ll get uneven protection.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun.
- Pay attention to expiration dates. Sunscreen loses much of its potency when its’s expired.
- Apply an SPF lotion under your makeup every day.
- Use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy outside. The sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds.
Avoid doing activities in the sun when its light is at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you get a sunburn, follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendations for treating it. Some of the AAD’s suggestions include:
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve pain.
- Use a moisturizer containing aloe vera or soy to soothe sunburned skin.
- Drink extra water.
- If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal.
If you’re going to be outdoors in the sun, stay hydrated with cool water and be aware of how your body is responding to the heat to prevent heat illness. The most common heat-related illnesses are heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat rash and heat cramps are considered mild conditions. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are severe.
The Cleveland Clinic describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in detail. Here’s a brief summary:
Symptoms of heat rash include red, itchy skin, tingling or prickling pain and small bumps or blisters on areas that stay wet when you sweat. To treat heat rash, go to a cool place, gently dry off your skin and put cold compresses on your affected skin. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.
Symptoms of heat cramps include muscle pain or spasms in the arms, legs or abdomen. Your skin will likely feel cool and moist, but your temperature will probably remain normal. To treat heat cramps, drink water and rest.
With heat exhaustion, you’ll likely experience quick, shallow breathing; heavy sweating; headache; irritability; elevated temperature and heart rate; and a weak, quick pulse. Muscle cramps are also a symptom of heat exhaustion.
To treat heat exhaustion, go to a cool, shaded area or go indoors, drink small sips of cold water, put cold cloths on your skin, and call 911 or go the emergency department.
Symptoms of heat stroke include a quick, strong pulse; slurred speech, confusion or an altered mental state; dry, red, hot skin; nausea; temperature of 105 degrees or higher, muscle twitching; seizures; lack of sweating despite the heat; and dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness.
If you suspect heat stroke, get out of the hot sun and get treatment right away. Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. In the meantime, start to cool down by spraying yourself with water or applying cool compresses, loosen or remove your clothing and elevate your feet. Don’t drink any fluids.
If you plan to be active outdoors this month, follow these suggestions and stay safe in the summer sun!