How to Safely Enjoy the Sun

Article excerpt

Most of us enjoy being outside in sunny weather. The sun provides a natural lift in spirits and needed Vitamin D. Swimming, gardening, jogging, hiking, and other physical outdoor activities keep us fit. But the sun also poses real danger. Beyond contributing to heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heat stroke, the sun also emits powerful radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Often referred to as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), exposure to these emissions can cause sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer. Exposure can also harm the eyes (contributing to cataracts) and the immune system (causing suppression).

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States, strikes 3.5 million people each year. One type of skin cancer that excess sun exposure can cause is melanoma. It can be fatal if not detected and treated early enough. According to Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), "Melanoma is one of the most common cancers among people ages 15-29 years." Non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, can also occur due to UV rays. A tanning bed or "indoor tanning" subjects the user to UV radiation and the same dangers as traditional outdoor tanning. Additionally, ocular melanoma has been linked with tanning bed use.

RNs should use the following precautions for their own health, safety, and wellness, and should also share them with their families, patients, and the community at large to safely enjoy the sun.

Use sunscreen. Sunscreens that protect skin from UVA and UVB rays are considered "broad spectrum." Choose products with a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15, keeping in mind that SPF of 30 or more is best. Apply sunscreen generously when outdoors, even on cloudy or overcast days. Remember that snow, water, and sand reflect the sun's rays, so sun protection is still needed. Additional recommended sunscreen practices include reapplication of the product every 2 hours, after getting in water, and after a heavy sweat. …