Summer means lazy weekends, hot temperatures and outdoor activities. Good sun protection is important to prevent dehydration, burns, and the development of skin cancer. Children need to be especially well protected because their skin is thinner and more sensitive. According to the Canadian Cancer Society
children and teenagers who get a severe sun burn before the age of 18 are at an increased risk of getting skin cancer as adults.
The best sun protection is to avoid the sun. That’s not exactly practical advice, but there are some steps that can be taken to limit our exposure. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am and 4pm. Avoiding direct light during that time is ideal, but not always possible. When in the sun, use protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. Stay in the shade or create cover with an umbrella.
Protective clothing should be loose fitting, lightweight and of a tight weave. Avoid clothes that use chemicals to block UV rays. A hat with a wide brim (front and back) is great to protect the face, ears, and neck. Children’s eyes are especially susceptible to sun damage, since they are less able to filter out ultra violet radiation. They also spend much of their time outdoors. Sun exposure can cause damage to the internal structures of the eye and lead to cataracts, as well as other conditions such as macular degeneration. Toy sunglasses are not a safe option for children. Buy your child’s glasses from a reputable retailer. Choose sunglasses that protect from both UVA and UVB light. Wraparound glasses offer the best protection.
Another good thing to keep in mind is the UV Index. Here are two websites that show the UV index for Beijing and other cities in China. On the days when the UV index is high it’s best to avoid direct sun exposure or make sure to use all of the available methods of protection.
Although keeping safe from the harmful UV rays is very important, it’s also important to have adequate levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is formed in our skin when exposed to UVB. Vitamin D helps boost our immune system, prevents various types of cancers and is important for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Currently there are no clear guidelines as to how or when to get the right amount of sunlight. Some exposure during non-peak hours (without burning) can improve our Vitamin D levels. People with very fair skin that burns easily or people with very dark skin may need to consider supplementation.
These days when the humidity is so high it’s crucial to drink plenty of water. When out in the sun it’s even easier to get dehydrated. Everyone is different, but consider 8 to 12 glasses a day as a rough guideline.
Barrier methods of protection, like a hat and shirt, are the first steps to keeping safe in the sun. The next step is to choose a good sunscreen. I’ll discuss the many factors to consider when buying a sunscreen that is effective and safe in my next blog post. Until then, enjoy the sun and keep safe!
Dr. Melissa Rodriguez is a Naturopathic doctor who lives with her family in Beijing, www.drmelissarodriguez.com