Sun safety is a big deal in my family. My son has skin grafts on both of his arms, and my wife has had more suspicious moles removed from her body than I can count, so to say that we are hyper-aware of the dangers of the sun is an understatement. Personal circumstances aside, even one serious sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma.
Consider this, then, my yearly PSA to remind folks of how to stay safe in the sun and still have fun. Most of us know, generally, what we are supposed to do in order to protect ourselves from the most damaging of the sun’s rays: avoid going outside between the hours of 10-4, wear sun protective clothing/hats/eye wear, and always use sunscreen. But it isn’t always that easy.
Avoid going outside?
In my 100-year-old, non-air conditioned house with first floor windows that are basically painted shut, being inside for those 6 hours is not an option. Instead, we flock to the shaded hiking trails and/or creeks of Riverview, Frick, and Fall Run Parks or playgrounds that have good shade (like Avonworth Community Park). Spray parks are great for short periods of time, but not many offer the kind of shade I crave in the summer.
Sun protective clothing
If I could give one piece of advice to my 20-something old self, it would be to buy stock in whichever company manufactures those long-sleeved UPF 50+ swim shirts. I admittedly go a little overboard to protect the skin on my kid’s arms, but he wears one every day we go outside. I’m that person at the end of the season buying every single one from the clearance rack, regardless of size or design. For the grownups, my wife has found a handful of companies that make attractive, sun protective clothing for adults (her favorite is Coolibar), so we’re pretty well covered (pun intended) in the clothing department. Several stores around town sell kids sunglasses for $1 a pair, so I let my kid pick out a few pairs and although it’s a painstaking and agonizing decision-making process in the store, he gets pretty excited about actually wearing them.
As I was writing this, I asked my wife how many containers of sunscreen we have in the house. Her guess (which I think is extremely low) was 15. We have a little bit of everything: zinc-based sunscreen, spray sunscreen, face lotion with sunscreen. I make it part of our morning routine – put on your shirt, put on your shoes, put on your sunscreen – but I don’t have a good system for reapplying it mid-day. In doing the research for this post, I learned a thing or two about sunscreen I didn’t know before. Namely, that you should use 1 ounce of sunscreen (that’s about the size of a golf ball) every 2 hours to cover your arms, legs, neck, and face. I think we might go through those 15 bottles faster than I expected…
There are a lot of great online resources you can use, both proactively and reactively, to educate yourself about sun safety. The EPA has an on-line tool you can use to check your local UV Index online, and the American Cancer Society offers tips on protecting yourself from UV rays. And, I hope you never need it, but the Skin Cancer Foundation has great, age-based information on how to treat sunburn in children.