Don’t forget safety precautions when outdoors this summer
With Memorial Day right around the corner, we are all eager to get out and be active. However, it is important to take precautions, especially if you’re going to be at the lake or out in the sun.
Protect your skin
Too much sun exposure can lead to severe skin damage, and Dr. Scarlett Aldrich, a plastic surgeon with Plastic Surgery Specialists of Lawrence (PSSL), said that sunscreen is a must if you plan to be outside — even if you’re in the shade.
“Staying in the shade is an excellent way to decrease your UV exposure, (but) anytime you are going to spend time outdoors, it is still a good idea to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin for the best protection,” she said. “Believe it or not, some surfaces can reflect UV rays and still cause exposure even when you are in the shade.”
It’s helpful to check the weather before you go outdoors, and you should pay particular attention to the UV index. This is a measurement that tells you how intense the rays are.
“The UV index is a tool that tells us how much UV exposure is expected on that specific day,” Aldrich said. “It ranges from low to extreme. For any day greater than moderate, you should plan to use sunscreen, (wear) protective clothing and stay in the shade if possible.”
Aldrich said the highest levels of UV exposure tend to be in the middle of the day, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The facts about sunscreen
When you’re buying sunscreen, you’ll probably notice the SPF measurements on the labels — some of them as low as 15, others well over 100 and everything in between. But what do these measurements mean?
Skyelar Maloney, a nurse with PSSL, said that the SPF tells you how much longer it would take the sun’s rays to damage your skin with the sunscreen on. An SPF of 30, for instance, means that it would take 30 times longer for the sun to damage your skin with the sunblock on than it would without any sunblock.
However, she stressed that this only applies if the sunblock is used correctly.
“A common mistake people will make is using SPF 50 (or higher), applying it once, staying outside all day and then (ending) up with a sunburn,” Maloney said. “Although it is a higher level of SPF, factors go into whether the SPF is still in place. Are you in water? Are you sweating? Is it a cream or a spray?”
Maloney said it’s important to reapply sunblock periodically if you’re in the sun for long periods of time, no matter what the SPF measurement is. She also said that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF of at least 30. Whatever SPF you use, make sure you look for a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
In addition, remember that sunburn doesn’t just happen on large, exposed areas of skin like your shoulders, back or face. It’s easy to get burned on the lips and scalp, as well. Wearing a hat, using a lip balm with an SPF rating or simply applying sunscreen directly to your lips can prevent a burn.
Maloney also advised against common tricks that are used to get a tan, such as tanning oils. She said that any darkening of the skin indicates damage, and that products such as tanning oils can lead to wrinkles, skin cancer and other lasting harm.
“I would not recommend applying oil to tan your skin faster,” she said. “Essentially what you are doing is damaging your skin at a higher rate.”
Sunburn and other skin problems
If you do get a sunburn, there are things you can do to relieve the pain and help the burn heal — and Aldrich said that starts with preventing any further exposure to the sun.
“You want to start with protective clothing that is a lightweight and nonabrasive fabric,” she said. “Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are also very helpful.”
Aldrich advises staying in the shade as much as possible and applying sunscreen to all uncovered areas to prevent additional damage.
Many products commonly available in pharmacies can lessen the pain of a sunburn, including aloe vera products, moisturizers and even anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen, Aldrich said. And Maloney said that taking cool baths or showers can relieve the pain, as well.
Sunburn isn’t the only problem that can arise from too much sun exposure, though. It’s important to watch for signs of more serious conditions like skin cancer, too.
If you have a mole that has changed in size or appearance, it’s a good idea to have it checked by a professional, because it could be a skin cancer. The most serious skin cancer is melanoma, which usually looks like a flat mole with uneven edges and an asymmetrical shape. Most melanomas show up as a new spot or skin growth, but they can form in an existing mole or other mark on the skin, too.
“Anytime you notice a new or changing skin lesion, it is a good idea to have it checked,” Aldrich said. “It is always better to be safe than sorry. The earlier a skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.”
In addition to asymmetry, irregular edges or changes in the size and shape of a mole, you should also watch for moles that are not uniform in color, that are larger than a pencil eraser or that bleed or are itchy or painful.
On your bike and in the water
There’s more to being safe outdoors than just sun safety, especially if your family is planning a bike trip or a trip to the lake.
If you’re riding a bike, the most important thing is to always wear a helmet. Dr. Maribeth Orr, a primary care provider with Eudora Family Care, said that applies regardless of how experienced a cyclist you are.
“Head injuries do not discriminate based on age or skill,” Orr said. “Everyone is at risk for an accident, and helmets can save lives.”
Beyond that, Orr said it’s important to know your route, make sure someone else knows where you’re going, take your phone with you and stay hydrated on long trips. If you need some ideas on safe places to go biking, Orr said your local bike shop can help.
“If you are new to cycling, it’s always a great idea to check with your local bike shop on recommended trails and paths to fit your level,” she said. “The bike shop can assist with safety checks of your bicycle, too.”
Group rides are also a good option. The Lawrence Bicycle Club hosts weekly group rides for many skill levels; you can find more information at lawrencebicycleclub.org.
If swimming or boating is more your family’s style, it’s important to pay attention and take precautions with your kids and grandkids. Be sure you stay vigilant about where the kids are when you’re around water, and make sure kids are wearing properly fitted life jackets.
“Make sure that jacket is on any time they are near the water or on a boat,” Orr said.
More information about boating safety for the family and legal requirements can be found on ksoutdoors.com.
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.