Have you noticed that around this time every year, the sun shines more, there is less rain, and temperatures start to climb? Could it be a conspiracy? We should look into that….
Okay, we’re being silly, but that is one prerogative of the summer vacation after all. While summer days may seem care free, filled with sunshine and outdoor activities, there are still a few simple things that you can do to ensure a safe summer. In other words, to be sun smart. That means sunscreen, sunglasses, and safety.
Starting with sunscreen: any time you are outdoors in the sun should be preceded by the application of sunscreen that provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Apply it half an hour before heading out and reapply regularly, especially if you’re in the water or perspire heavily. Even an overcast day can lead to sunburn because over three-quarters of the sun’s rays can penetrate light clouds, mist and fog.
If you have looked around at the sunscreen counter recently, you have seen that products are now showing up with ever-higher SPF ratings. But is an SPF 90 really much better than a 30? Three times better? In short: no, not 3 times better.
The SPF number refers to the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which cause sunburns, but not UVA rays, which are more closely linked to deeper skin damage. And it’s not a consumer-friendly number. An SPF 15 product blocks about 94% of UVB rays; an SPF 30 product blocks 97% of UVB rays; and an SPF 45 product blocks about 98% of rays. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays, but none offers 100% protection.
Now to sunglasses. Good protection for your eyes is not about what you paid. Indeed, that ‘cheap’ pair could be as good or better as the high-end designer pair. What matters is the lenses’ ability to block UVA and UVB. Look for glasses that block 100 percent of UV rays. Secondly, consider this: bigger is better. A larger lens provides more coverage including from the side. What about polarized lenses? They do a great job to cut glare but are not necessarily blocking UV light.
Safety in the heat is more than sunscreen and eye protection. One key is to stay hydrated by drinking cool beverages (yes, preferably water) whatever your level of activity — don’t wait until you are thirsty. On the hottest days, keep cool by spending at least several hours a day in a cool location. For example, your local (air-conditioned) shopping center, library or community center. Dress for the weather by wearing loose, light-weight clothing. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
A major concern during very hot periods is for people who cannot or do not go out regularly, or can’t get to a cool location. Check in on people living alone who may be at high risk of severe heat related illness. If you find someone feeling unwell, move them to a cool, shady spot, help them get hydrated and call for medical assistance if required.
Being smart about the sun and hot temperatures is mostly about good sense, but in our eagerness to enjoy the weather, we can sometimes forget even the obvious things.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.