Oh it’s summer time, and the living is easy! If you’re like my family, you probably spend most of your free time basking in the sun — from amusement parks to barbecues and time spent by the water. But before you head out for some well-deserved fun in the sun, make sure you and your family members know how to protect yourselves from the sun’s rays and recognize and treat heat-related illness.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada and one of the most preventable. The best way to lower your risk of developing cancer is to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR); and not just in the summer, but all year round.
Here are some simple tips to help you beat the heat and stay safe in the sun.
1. Check the Ultraviolet (UV) Index. Before heading out, check the UV Index. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends reducing your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (when the sun’s rays are at their strongest), or any time of the day when the UV Index is 3 or more. And don’t let those clouds fool you! UV rays can pass through clouds, fog, haze and smog.
2. Lather on the sunscreen. Apply a good quality sunscreen on any exposed skin before you head out in the sun, and reapply it every couple of hours. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and make sure it offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays (labelled “broad spectrum”). Follow the directions on the bottle for reapplication (especially after swimming or sweating). And don’t neglect your lips. Choose a lip balm that contains SPF. But be careful with your precious little ones — do not put sunscreen on babies less than 6 months of age as their skin is sensitive and can absorb too many chemicals. Keep them out of the sun and heat as much as possible and use wide-brimmed hats and stroller canopies to keep their skin shaded.
Choosing a sunscreen:
- According to the Canadian Cancer Society, no sunscreen offers 100% protection; SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays and SPF 30 and higher sunscreen blocks 97% of UVB rays.
- While sunscreen sprays may seem convenient, breathing them in can irritate the lungs. It’s also difficult to tell if you’ve applied enough and some sprays are flammable.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to help you choose a sunscreen that’s right for you and your children as there are certain ingredients like para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which can cause skin allergies. Check out the David Suzuki Foundation’s criteria for choosing sunscreen.
3. Choose protection over fashion! Wear a wide-brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, breathable fabrics, like cotton. You can also choose UV-protective labelled clothing which actually provides better protection than sunscreen (according to the Canadian Cancer Society).
4. NEVER leave kids or pets in a parked car. Every year, we hear tragic news about children or pets being left in hot vehicles. According to the Canada Safety Council, extreme heat affects infants and small children more quickly and dramatically than adults. A child’s core temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult. Within 20 minutes, the air temperature in a previously air conditioned car exposed to the sun on a 35ºC day (95º F) can exceed 50ºC (122º F)! And leaving a window slightly open does little to prevent the vehicle from becoming hot.
5. Keep hydrated. Drink plenty of water as sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid drinks with caffeine (tea, coffee and cola) or alcohol as they can cause dehydration, which stops the body from controlling its temperature properly.
6. Don some shades! We don’t think about it, but even your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, so make sure the family is equipped with properly-fitting sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
7. Minimize your time in the sun. The best way to protect your skin is to look for places with lots of shade like underneath big trees, awnings, umbrellas or tents. Keep in mind, however, that shady areas do not eliminate the effects of UV rays, so while your skin might not burn, you still need to consider ways to protect yourself from UVA and UVB.
8. Pace yourself. If you are working or exercising in hot weather, pace yourself and keep well hydrated. If possible, exercise early in the morning before the sun is out in full force. If you start to feel weak, short of breath or light-headed, head indoors to cool off.
9. Check on the elderly. If you know someone who is elderly or has a health condition, check on them when the weather is hot to ensure they’re properly hydrated and not suffering from any heat-related illnesses.
10. Stay cool. On extremely hot days when the humidex is skyrocketing and smog is in the air (you know those days!), stay in an air conditioned area. If you don’t have air conditioning, go to a public building like a shopping mall or designated community centre to cool off.
11. Know your medications. Did you know that some medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays? Check with your doctor about any medications you or your family members are taking.
12. Know the signs of heat-related illness. Take a look at these tips from the Canadian Red Cross so you can be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and what you can do to help alleviate them.
It’s great to get out and enjoy the sun — there’s so much to do and see and the sun is a natural way to help the body produce Vitamin D. But, remember to keep these tips top-of-mind for a carefree and healthy summer!
What do you do to keep you and your family sun safe? Let us know in the comments below.