On the list of “things that can ruin a summer vacation,” bad sunburns are up there with car trouble and Wally World being closed (ask your parents if you don’t get that reference). The thing is, a bad sunburn’s malevolence reaches beyond your vacation. Not only is it a marker for susceptibility to melanoma (the worst, most deadly kind of skin cancer), but also the fact that the sunburn happened puts you at greater risk for melanoma.
Even if you don’t “burn easily,” if you do manage to get cooked, you just increased your chances of a potentially fatal skin cancer. And if you do burn easily, you need to be extra careful.
How to avoid sunburn
The first and most obvious way to avoid sunburn is to simply avoid the sun. No, you don’t need to retire to a Transylvanian chateau. Just avoid the sun when it is at its most intense, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Of course, that time is when many people want to do things outside, so what else can we do? Dress for it: time-tested long sleeves and broad brim hats still work just fine. Nowadays, plenty of other clothing options are thinner, lighter and more comfortable during hot weather that also provide adequate UV protection.
Finally, there’s sunscreen. Sunscreen is a wonderful thing, but it’s really important to recognize its limitations. It should have at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30. Opt for those labeled “very water resistant,” which means that the SPF remains after 80 minutes in the water.
Apply your sunscreen 15-30 minutes before you go out into the sun. It needs time to form a protective film on your skin. Putting on sunscreen and then jumping right into the water puts you at risk for burns as the sunscreen is washed away. Similarly, putting on sunscreen and then immediately starting a jog has the same effect because of sweating.
Your sunscreen doesn’t last forever, either. It should be reapplied every 80 minutes when you’re outside. Sunscreen also doesn’t last in the bottle, either; it can expire. That bottle of sunscreen you bought last year may very well be ineffective.
Finally, don’t rely on sunscreen for children under one year of age; keep them out of the sun. Their skin is so sensitive, sunscreen provides a false sense of security.
Get your sunscreen and get ready to enjoy your summer a bit more. Now fire up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster (ask your parents), make sure you stay hydrated, and go on summer vacation!
The expert family medicine providers at the Des Moines University Clinic can help you and your loved ones stay healthy this summer and beyond. For more information or to make an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1710.