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Think Sunscreen and Water for Summer Sun Safety

Image of SPF written in sunblock on someone's arm. Click to open a larger version of the image. The 673rd Medical Operations Squadron Dermatology Clinic at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, offers these tips to prevent the onset of skin cancer such as generously applying sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade when the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and monitoring any changes in your body (Photo by: Air Force Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera).

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Sun safety should be an everyday concern regardless of the season. Your most potent safety protections against the sun are dollops of UVA/UVB sunscreen, lots of water, and knowing your own physical limitations.

UVA and UVB rays are the most common types of ultraviolet rays the sun produces. According to the Food and Drug Administration, UVA rays have longer wave lengths and can penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis), while UVB rays have shorter wave lengths that reach the outer layer of your skin (the epidermis).

Both UVA and UVB rays can cause damage to your skin. Sunburn is a sign of short-term overexposure, while premature aging and skin cancer are side effects of prolonged UV exposure.

"Sun safety doesn't need to be complicated; it just needs to be consistent," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Nathan Zundel, department head of Emergency Medicine at Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Twentynine Palms, California. "Parents especially can help children develop a regular habit of UV protection so that, like seatbelts, it becomes second nature as they get older."

Below are some recommendations to be safe in the sun:

  1. Always wear sunscreen outside and reapply frequently, especially to highly sensitive areas such as your ears, nose, neck and chest, and your scalp. Don't forget the back of your neck, your hands and the tops of your feet.
  2. Use the highest level SPF sunscreen you can find (at least SPF 30).
  3. UVA/UVB blocker ingredients such as zinc oxide are good to look for on your sunscreen's label.
  4. Sunscreen takes a while to absorb and activate, so apply at least 15 minutes before you go outside.
  5. Wear sunscreen every day. The effects of sun exposure are cumulative and can cause skin cancer.
  6. For your children, try applying a sunscreen that you can see, such as purple ones that change to clear as they dry. That way, you’ll get every spot.
  7. Hats and sunglasses are a good idea each time you go outside.
  8. Try to stay out of the sun when it is at its height, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  9. Know your own limits when it comes to activity.
  10. Watch for signs of heat strain and heat stroke. These include:

a. Painful muscle spasms usually in the legs or abdomen
b. No sweating
c. Goosebumps
d. Headache
e. Clamminess, pale skin
f. Dizziness or disorientation

11. If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, so drink plenty of water at constant rates.

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