Summer safety tips from LMH Health
Summer is right around the corner and will be filled with long days out in the sun, grilling, boating, biking, hiking and more, oh my! After this cold winter inside, we are all anxious to get out and be active. However, it is important to take caution, especially when children are running and playing around water and in the heat.
Protect yourself from the sun
When thinking about the spring and summer, the visions of bronzed skin and days laying out at the pool or lake run through our heads. Though the sun brings warmth to our hearts, it can also bring harm to our skin. Too much sun exposure can lead to severe skin damage. Dr. Scarlett Aldrich, a plastic surgeon with Plastic Surgery Specialists of Lawrence (PSSL), said no matter where you plan to relax, if you are outside, sunscreen is a must.
Dr. Scarlett Aldrich
“Staying in the shade is an excellent way to decrease your UV exposure, however, 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.”
When venturing outdoors, a helpful tool to look at is the UV index. Though it is always important to put on sunscreen, this piece of information can cue you in on how intense the rays are.
“The UV index is a tool that tells us how much UV exposure is expected on that specific day,” Dr. Aldrich said. “It ranges from low to extreme. For any day greater than moderate, you should plan to use sunscreen, protective clothing and stay in the shade if possible. It is also important to avoid or limit sun exposure in the midday hours, as this tends to be the time when you will get the highest levels of UV exposure. If you are going to be outdoors between 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., be sure to protect yourself!”
Though we all enjoy tan skin and that nice summer glow, our skin prefers the latter. As with many aspects in your health journey, you are only allowed one chance to take good care of it.
“Your skin does so much to protect you, be sure to return the favor,” Dr. Aldrich said. “It’s the only one you get!”
Wear your sunscreen for that summer sun
Skyelar Maloney, a nurse with PSSL, didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but said, sadly, any darkening to the skin is indeed skin damage.
“It is pivotal to wear sunscreen when you are going to be exposed to the sun’s harsh rays,” Maloney said. “You need to wear sunscreen even when you are younger in age. The surgeons at PSSL always tell our older patients with skin cancer that the damage was likely done when they were young and did not wear SPF. It is important to use sunscreen whether you are young or old, because it protects you from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.”
Not only is it important to protect your skin, but it is even more important not to do anything that could further damage your skin. While tips and tricks on how to get a good summer tan are floating around TikTok and other popular social media platforms, Maloney said these are not recommended and can do a lot of harm, especially with tanning oils.
“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. Any darkening, such as tanning, is damaging the skin. This skin damage is what causes skin aging, wrinkles and can lead to skin cancer.”
The right SPF for you
Now that we have debunked some common myths about tanning and sun exposure, it is equally as important to talk about SPF. As many know from walking into a drug store or local supermarket, SPF can come in all shapes and sizes including spray, lotion and stick. There are numbers on the packaging that begin at SPF 15 and go up to an SPF well over 100. But what does this mean and which is best? Maloney said SPF 100+ can be better than an SPF 30, but it’s best to understand why that is.
“The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF of at least 30,” she said. “The number in the SPF is telling us how long it would take for the sun’s UV rays to penetrate your skin and damage it. With an SPF 30 if applied correctly, it would take the sun 30 times longer to do this than without any SPF applied. Your SPF 150 would have a higher level of protection but also can give a false sense of security.”
Maloney said when looking for an SPF you want to find one that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Although you may use a higher SPF number, such as 150, you will still need to reapply your sunscreen throughout your exposure to the sun and seek shade or other cover.
I am prepping for a 5K this summer. What should I do?
Dr. Orr said prepping for a 5K is awesome! When you are preparing, you will want to determine your goals - both long and short term. Consistency is key. Make sure you’re moving almost every day with a brisk walk or jog to a level where “you can talk, but can’t sing”.
“There are local running groups as well that help with accountability and prep for any distance,” Dr. Orr said. “For some folks, hiring a coach can also be very beneficial. Don’t overdo it! Running is unfortunately a very injury-prone sport. Listen to your body and gradually increase your time of effort as you get better. It’s also ok to just get in 5-10 minutes of movement when you can. It all adds up in the end.”
She said that most importantly, ENJOY the process and HAVE FUN. Celebrate your accomplishments and savor that finish line. You can do it!
“A common mistake people will make is using SPF 50+, applying it once, staying outside all day and then will end 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? All of those go into play with SPFs and essentially you need to reapply multiple times when in the sun - even if it is SPF 150 or SPF 30 - and seek shade or cover.”
Though you may think about those horrible burns on your shoulders, back and face, do not forget that your lips and scalp can get severely burned without proper care as well.
“Your lips and scalp can burn and are both places that a skin cancer can arise later due to previous sun damage,” Maloney said. “When out in the sun, wearing a hat and using a lip balm with SPF or simply applying sunscreen directly on your lips can help avoid sun damage in these areas.”
Uh oh, I'm burnt and I need a fix
There may be times when you’ve fallen asleep in the sun or had too much fun and forgot to reapply your SPF. Unfortunately, the sun does not take pity on your outdoor afternoon and without protection, you can get burned – literally. Dr. Aldrich said the most important thing when you are burned is to reduce any further sun exposure.
“You want to start with protective clothing that is a lightweight and non-abrasive fabric, she said. “Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are also very helpful. Next, stay in the shade as much as possible. Nothing hurts a sunburn more than the bright, hot sun! Be sure to apply sunscreen to uncovered areas - don’t forget your ears, hands, feet and lips. Finally, you can find many burn relief products in the pharmacy including aloe vera, moisturizers and even anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or Aleve to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort from the burn.”
Maloney said the American Academy of Dermatology has additional great recommendations on treating a sunburn.
“They recommend taking frequent cool baths or showers to relieve pain, and, of course, you also want to protect your skin from the sun while you have a burn that is healing,” she said.
It is important to be educated on the safe ways to enjoy the sun. To break it down to the basics, whenever you are going to be out in the sun it is important to wear SPF that protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays and seek shade or cover while out.
“The sun’s UVA and UVB rays are what cause skin burns and damage, as well as skin aging and wrinkles,” Maloney said. “It is also important to reapply SPF when out in the sun, especially if you are sweating or out in water, which can cause the SPF to not fully absorb into the skin. I always like to remind people to not forget their scalp, lips and ears when applying sunscreen. Those areas are sensitive and are common for skin cancers to arise as they are commonly missed!”
I have a mole that is getting bigger. Is this bad?
Dr. Luke Huerter
One big concern about a changing mole is the risk that it has transformed into skin cancer, the scariest of which is melanoma. Melanoma usually looks like a flat mole with uneven edges and a shape that is not the same on both sides. It may be black, brown or more than one color. Most melanomas show up as a new spot or skin growth. But they can form in an existing mole or another mark on the skin.
“We see skin cancer every day in our clinic. It’s one of the more common types of cancer we see,” said Dr. Luke Huerter, an oncologist with the LMH Health Cancer Center.
It never hurts to have moles/dark spots checked by a professional. Dr. Huerter said the first thing you should do is contact your primary care provider.
“If you see something that doesn’t look quite right or is causing symptoms, have it evaluated,” he said. “In those situations, your provider can then decide whether or not a biopsy is warranted to further investigate that mole.”
So, how do you know what to look for when it comes to melanoma? One of the easiest ways to know what to look for when self-examining for melanoma is to remember the ABCDE’s:
- A- asymmetry- one side doesn’t match the other
- B- border irregularity- the edges are blurred, jagged, or notched
- C- color- color is not uniform, some areas are darker or lighter than others
- D- diameter- any lesion bigger than the size of a pencil eraser
- E- Evolution- any change in the size, shape, color or symptoms (pain, itching, bleeding)
Staying safe and preparing for outdoor activities
Being outdoors is fun, wonderful and healthy! Though it is important to remember sun safety, it is important to enjoy the outdoors and stay active. Dr. Maribeth Orr, a primary care provider with Eudora Family Care, said that one of the most important things to remember is to stay well hydrated and bring along healthy snacks for any adventure. If you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, you’re already behind.
“If you know you’ll be in the heat for an extended time, start hydrating early - like the day before or even a few days before,” she said. “Pack healthy snacks that are easy to grab for kids. Keeping zip lock bags full of fresh veggies and bite-size/cut-up fresh fruit is always an excellent choice. Don’t forget a good protein source! Nut butters, granola and cold yogurt are great options.”
Dr. Maribeth Orr
Dr. Orr said the great outdoors also serve as a great home for many insects. When enjoying your time outside, be sure to take along repellant that contains DEET and cover your skin and clothing. DEET is effective against ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers and other biting insects.
Bike safety for you and the family
What better way to bond with your friends and family than a group bike ride? Biking is a great way to engage the whole family in an outdoor activity and get your bodies moving.
“Bike rides are a BLAST and are certainly one of my favorite outdoor activities,” Dr. Orr said. “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. The bike shop can assist with safety checks of your bicycle too! In Lawrence, we are blessed to have the Lawrence Bicycle Club who hosts weekly group rides for many skill levels. More info can be found on their website at lawrencebicycleclub.org.”
She said that helmets are recommended for all levels of riding anywhere. There are local organizations that give bike helmets to children as well.
“Head injuries do not discriminate based on age or skill,” Dr. Orr said. “Everyone is at risk for an accident and helmets can save lives.”
Dr. Orr said other tips for bike riding include knowing your route and making sure someone knows where you plan to be. Taking a cell phone along is a must, especially if you choose to ride solo. The same rules apply here as with other outdoor activities – wear your sunscreen, drink lots of water and bring healthy snacks too!
Time to crank out the boat
One of the biggest areas of concern, for parents especially, is water and boat safety. Of course, it is important to remain vigilant about your children’s whereabouts around water, but that doesn’t mean the family can’t enjoy it as a whole.
“One tip for safety is to be sure your child has a properly fitting US Coast Guard-approved life jacket,” Dr. Orr said. “Make sure that jacket is on any time they are near the water or on a boat. As the saying goes from the American Red Cross Learn to Swim program ‘don’t just pack it, WEAR your jacket!’”
With caution and preparation, being around the water can be a very fun family outing with the chance to make lots of memories.
“Take your children on the boat,” Dr. Orr said. “Let them enjoy the excitement with the adults, but be safe. Visit the link here for more tips on safety and legal requirements.”
So how about COVID-19, how can we stay safe?
Of course, it is still important to pay attention to state and local COVID-19 guidelines and to follow the advice from the CDC.
“If you can’t physically distance yourself at least six feet from others that you don’t know and don’t know of their COVID-19 vaccine status, then masks are still a must,” Dr. Orr said. “Always follow the most up-to-date CDC guidelines regarding recommendations and regulations for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As the weather gets nicer, be sure to enjoy it as safely as possible with those you love most. Enjoy the summer and be sure to stay safe.