Don’t forget the sunblock!
Summer finally has arrived and many of us are spending more time outdoors. Who doesn’t want to enjoy the beautiful summer weather that Northern Arizona has to offer? Yet while we are out camping, hiking, swimming and fishing, it is important to remember the dangers that come with spending so much time in the sun.
Getting sun can help us stay healthy by allowing our bodies to make Vitamin D, which is very important in keeping our bones, heart and immune system healthy. It only takes five to 30 minutes of direct sunlight twice a week for our bodies to make the Vitamin D it needs. Many of us get far more sun exposure than that, which is why it is important to know how the sun’s rays can affect us and what we can to do protect ourselves.
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays not only cause painful sunburns, but also can lead to other health conditions like glaucoma, cataracts and skin cancer – exposure to the sun causes 95-percent of all skin cancers. Overexposure to UV rays also can lead to wrinkles and blotchy skin and can worsen some health conditions.
UV rays are powerful and can get through dense cloud cover. They also can reflect off surfaces like sand, cement and water. In high altitude, there is less atmosphere to absorb these harmful rays. This means the strength of UV rays is much higher. We must be even more careful here in the North Country.
What can you do to protect yourself against the sun?
- Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Shaded areas under trees, a tent or porch gives us more protection; using an umbrella also helps.
- Use sunblock with an SPF of 30 or greater that guards against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunblock to your skin at least 30 minutes before going outside. Apply at least two tablespoons to cover your arms, legs and face. You may need more to cover your chest and back. Reapply the sunblock every one to two hours, or more often if you are sweating or swimming. Also, reapply it after drying off with a towel.
- Do not use expired sunblock. Leaving sunblock in higher temperatures can cause it to become less effective over time. Throw away sunblock that is past its expiration date.
- Wear protective clothing such as a hat to protect your head and face and sunglasses that provide 100-percent UV ray protection to protect your eyes. Wearing sunglasses daily will reduce your risk for developing eye problems.
- Avoid the sun when taking certain medications. Some medications like antibiotics, water pills, acne creams or heart medication can increase your sensitivity to the sun. Ask your pharmacist if any of the medications you are taking can increase your risk to the harmful effects of UV rays.
- Children are at higher risk for sunburns because they are less likely to protect themselves. Make sure your children apply sunblock before they head outside to play. If your child is less than 6 months old, use hats, sunglasses and shade to protect them. Sunblocks with “baby formulas” can be used on small areas of a baby’s skin, such as the face and hands.
Geremi Boom, BS, C.PhT, is a certified pharmacy technician at Flagstaff Pharmacy, a division of Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.