Lifestyle & WellnessPublic Interest

Staying safe in the sun

West End Healthline

Staying safe in the sun

By Laura Hurley, MD 
Like bears coming out from hibernation, St. Paul has come alive as we welcome warmer temperatures and days full of sunshine. The longer daylight and more favorable forecasts provide a great opportunity to spend time outdoors. Activities such as tending to flowers and gardens, walking with friends or bicycling throughout the neighborhood, among many more, help support healthy bodies, decrease stress and improve our mood.
While enjoying the sunlight and the return to beloved summer hobbies, it is important to consider how to best care for your skin. Many may easily recall painful sunburns they received during prior summers, likely related to prolonged time in the sun. There is also an increased risk of future complications, including skin cancer, with each sun exposure. This is due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, there are ways we can help prevent these immediate and future outcomes! Here are a few tips for protecting your skin while still ensuring you can enjoy the best of what Minnesota summers have to offer.
Tip #1: Use sunscreen, and use it often
A well-known staple for summer fun, sunscreen helps protect our skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays. When choosing which sunscreen to use, consider the SPF, or sun protection factor, number as listed on the bottle. The SPF helps categorize and indicate how much protection is provided, with higher numbers indicating greater protection. For days with any sun exposure, it is best to use sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher. To ensure the best protection, it is important to apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes prior to going outdoors. Then, be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, following vigorous sweating or after getting wet. While we often think about sunscreen on bright, sunny days, but UV rays can still be absorbed by our skin on cloudy days. Be sure to consider this and protect yourself with sunscreen even on cloudy days outdoors!
Tip #2: Dress the part
In addition to sunscreen, strategic planning of clothing for outdoor activities can also help protect against sun exposure. With today’s technologies, many companies produce clothing with materials and designs that provide sun-protective properties. However, simply choosing clothing items that help cover potentially exposed skin can help prevent sun exposure. Such items could include long-sleeved shirts, pants, skirts and hats.
Tip #3: Planning your activities outdoors
Since UV rays are most prominent in the middle of the day, consider coordinating your time outdoors in the morning or later in the day. Sometimes, this isn’t possible to do. In these situations, areas of shade offer an escape. Look for the shadows of a large tree for respite. When in doubt, packing an umbrella will ensure a shady space of your own.
Being outdoors provides many benefits for the mind and body. Yet, it is important to take steps to prevent painful sunburns now and decrease the risk of skin cancer in the future. 
Dr. Hurley is a family physician at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102, phone 651-241-5200.

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