Keep Yourself Safe from the Sun

June 2, 2015

The unofficial start of summer is now officially more than a week old. And we all know what that means. We’re headed outside!

Getting outside is great! I love the outdoors. Sports, boating, boogie-boarding, swimming, yard work, sitting on the back deck reading. Sign me up! I love the sun! My body wakes up around April when we get a few teasingly warm days.

And let me confess this right here, right now: when I was younger, I didn’t wear sunscreen. No one I knew did. We lathered ourselves in baby oil and other such greasy options for getting “a good base tan.” That usually meant we’d burned and were good for the rest of the year. Nope, wrong.

I finally realized we need to protect ourselves from the sun. Maybe marriage and motherhood did it. My family is a mix of blue eyed, fair skinned, light haired men.

While lighter-skinned people are more likely to suffer sun damage, darker-skinned people can as well, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). That damage is what leads to skin cancer, for some people. You’re at higher risk if you or a family member has had skin cancer before as well. There are a number of other factors as well – how often you are exposed to sun, if you have moles and if you take medication that makes you more susceptible to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, to name a few.

The ACS has a catchy phrase to help you remember how to protect yourself from sun damage: Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap. This campaign is designed to help you remember to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes.

The spring and summer are a great time to be generous with yourself and the ones you love.

Slather on sun screen. The ACS recommends using a “broad spectrum” sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The higher the better, though. SPF 30 filters out about 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays while SPF 100 filters about 99 percent. Also, check to make sure the expiration date is current. Then shake the bottle and apply. Generously.

Also, buy yourself sunglasses that protect against UV rays. The ACS says that ideally, you want the sunglasses to block 99 percent to 100 percent of the UVA and UVB rays. The organization says that the best option is large lenses with wraparound frames.

Speaking of large, go ahead and buy yourself and your loved ones a hat with a large, floppy brim. I’ve been looking for a purple, wide-brimmed one myself.

And finally, check your skin for any changes. Then talk with your health care provider about those changes and how often you and your children should get regular skin check-ups.

Enjoy this spring and summer! Get outside. Play catch with your children. Throw a Frisbee. Go swimming. Take a walk. But while you’re engaging in all of those healthy activities, remember to keep yourself safe with these tips from the ACS. My family and I will be. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be wearing my Hollywood sunglasses and a large purple hat. My three guys and I will smell like summer. (It’s the sunscreen. Really.) 

Connie Rhem is assistant director of communications for Wilson Medical Center.