Sun Safety: Head-to-Toe Tips

For many people, Memorial Day signals the unofficial start of summer. With more time spent outdoors, it is a good time to reeducate ourselves about the importance of skin protection. MedlinePlus teaches us that excessive sun exposure can lead to various health problems, but taking certain precautions can prevent them. Shade, wide-brimmed hats, and clothes that cover are your best forms of protection against the sun. Sunscreen is also a good source of skin protection if you put on enough; SPF 15 or higher is recommended. 

What are some of the risk factors for skin cancer? People who’ve had sunburns in the past are at higher risk, as are those over 50. If someone in your family has had skin cancer, your odds of getting it yourself increase.  Although those with light skin, hair, and eyes are more likely to get skin cancer (because they have less melanin, and therefore less built-in sun protection), those with dark skin are not immune. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and can be better treated if it is detected early.

What are the signs of skin cancer? Check your moles regularly to detect changes in shape, irregular edges, uneven colors, or an increase in size. It is possible to detect melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, before the cancer cells reach healthy tissue with a skin self-exam

And other tips for a healthy summer? Limit sun exposure to control your body temperature and avoid a heat illness such as heatstroke and heat exhaustion.  Do not use baby powder, creams, or ointments on infants to treat a heat rash, as they do not help the problem.  Instead, dress babies in light cotton clothing. Turn on a fan and position it so the baby only feels a light breeze, or turn on the air conditioner. Make sure you and your children drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, especially if you are exercising outside. 

In case of a heat emergency, have the person lie down, elevate the person’s feet, and apply cold compresses. If alert, give the person fluids such as Gatorade to sip, and avoid liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. Turn on a fan to lower the person’s body temperature, and contact a medical professional if needed.

Information from and NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine compiled by contributor Wendy Narez