Many people love the warmth that comes from summer and the sun. An added bonus is the fact that the sun's rays have many health benefits including making us feel good and helping us get the vitamin D we need.
Your body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun’s rays. Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient for our bodies and many people do not get enough. Vitamin D is essential for supporting the immune system, protecting against dementia and brain aging, improving bone health, aiding in losing excess fat, helping decrease symptoms of asthma, and strengthening teeth. Some studies have shown that it might even help lower the risk for some cancers.
Some other benefits of the sun are that it can kill certain bad bacteria, improve skin disorders, such as psoriasis, acne, eczema, and fungal infections, can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, increases oxygen content in human blood, can lessen depression and can improve sleep quality.
However, too much sunlight can be harmful. While anyone can get a sunburn in any season if exposed long enough, it is usually in the warm months that we spend more time outside when the sun is the strongest. Ultraviolet radiation is sun rays that cause sunburns and many skin cancers. The two types affecting us most are ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), which can lead to sunburn, skin damage, skin aging, and skin cancer.
When you know you are going to be out in the sun for long periods of time, make sure you wear proper clothing, sunglasses, a hat, and use sunscreen. Clothing can be an important part of your sun protection plan. There is specially designed sun protection clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 15 to 50+.
You can also wear clothing washed with a laundry additive like Sun Guard, which can increase the UPF of clothing. Try to dress in lightweight, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, pants or long skirts for best protection.
Sunglasses are an important way to help protect your eyes from sun damage. Look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. A hat is a great way to get extra sun protection as well. Some hats are able to provide sun protection to your nose, cheeks, neck, and chin. Remember, though, none of these substitute for sunscreen.
It is important to use sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect from both UVA and UVB rays and offer protection against skin cancer if used as directed with other sun protection measures. If you are going to be exercising or spending time in water, water-resistant sunscreens can help. Just pay attention to the length of protection. These sunscreens are in no way water-proof, so you'll need to reapply them regularly if you're taking a dip.
It is also very important to make sure to use sunscreen correctly. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go out in the sun. Don't skimp. A number of studies show that people don't use enough and only get 10 to 25 percent of the benefit. Don't forget the easy-to-miss spots, like the tips of your ears, your feet, the back of your legs, or a bald spot.
No matter how long-lasting it's supposed to be, reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and more often if you're sweating or getting wet. Pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time.
Wear sunscreen whenever you're out during the day, not only when it's hot and sunny. On a grey, overcast day, up to 80 percent of the dangerous UV rays still make it through the clouds.
Using the above tips can help keep you safe and healthy during the high temperatures this summer.
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.