For all the enormous, live-sustaining benefits the Sun provides us Earthlings, its powerful rays can also cause harmful side-effects. In humans, these can include: Rapid dehydration, sunburn (and its advanced relative–skin cancer), premature aging of the skin, retinal damage, cataracts, immune system weakening, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Next time you’re basking in the sun for extended periods, always be mindful of the possible side effects; learn how to substantially reduce your chances of falling victim to sunlight and heat by reading on.
1. H20, Baby
Although it’s practically engrained into our heads (yet it never fails to be 110% true), drink plenty of water and other electrolyte-boosting drinks (e.g. mineral/flavored water) at close, regular intervals and in moderate amounts—do not attempt to chug a gallon of water all at once, in other words.
Stay away from drinks with added-sugar; if hunger appears (which is very likely), consider munching on a vegetable or fruit snack. Vegetables and fruits are up to 90% pure water. And although the daily intake requirements of water for people varies—depending on factors like your level of activity, BMI (body mass index), weather conditions and eating habits—the average person (being moderately active and being exposed to the sun around 20% of the day) needs to consume up to 3 liters daily.
2. Break Out the Sunscreen/Sunblock
First, let’s clarify the common misconception that they’re the same thing. Sunscreen, like its name suggests, screens out most of the Sun’s harmful rays and boasts an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or less. Sunblock (SPF of 30 and up), on the other hand, provides far more robust, longer-lasting protection: Useful especially for folks with very light- to fair-skinned complexions.
Yeah, everyone knows they should use it, yet many either ignore it or neglect to use an effective strength. Keeping the aforementioned about SPFs in mind:
- Use sunblock, even if you’re fairly tan, especially during the period of the day when the Sun is in full-force, per say (11 A.M. ’til about 4:30 P.M.).
- Kids require even more protection, given their still-developing immune systems and the fact that permanent Sun damage can occur even before they reach adulthood.
- Realize that the numbers on sunscreen and sunblock bottles (e.g. SPF 25 or 40) actually mean something. Take SPF 30 for example; when applied, you protect yourself up to 30 times longer (than you would with no protection) from sunburn and other damaging effects. Additionally, the higher the SPF, the greater area (expressed as a %) of skin that’s shielded.
- Make certain that your sunscreen or sunblock sports both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B rays) protection.
- Give sunblock/sunscreen around 30-40 minutes to acclimate to your skin before venturing into the sun.
- Most people need about one-fourth a cup of it every two-to-three hours—more frequently for profuse sweaters.
- Going swimming? Get a waterproof/water-resistant sunblock solution.
Didn’t know there was so much to sunblock, did ya?
While keeping the body hydrated and the skin protected with sunblock/sunscreen is great (and extremely important), what you wear completes the equation.
- Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing when exposed to the sun and/or extreme heat. Just because the Sun may be hiding, that doesn’t mean that you’re immune.
- Cover your head with a hat, towel, or visor and take advantage of any shade you come across as frequently as possible.
- Keep a cool, wet towel draped around your neck. The nerves in the back of the neck (around the ‘small’) respond more quickly to cool stimuli than most other parts of your body.
- Consume ample, cold water, but don’t overdo it; taking in too much water can place a real strain on the kidneys—which may lead to stomach cramps, diarrhea, and even longer-term conditions.
- Wear the right sunglasses. Often, even cheap pairs from the convenience store will do. Make sure to grab a pair labeled with at least 99% protection—100% is, of course, better—against both UVA and UVB rays, just like your sunblock. Sunlight can damage not only the area around the eye (i.e. eyelid), but also the eye lens and cornea, and can lead to the development of myriad cataracts, among other things.
4. Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
The fourth method—and this may be the most important of all—is being vigilant of the signs of heat exhaustion or, worse yet, heat stroke. Good indicators of the former include sudden, heat-related cramps, profuse sweating, dark urine, nausea. The signs for heat stroke are ramped-up a bit: feeling faint, becoming heavily disoriented, seizing and/or reaching a body temperature above 102 F.
In the event you or another person begins to experience any of these, take precautions—find shade and/or a fan, lie down in the shade with the head propped up, hydrate, wet the upper-body down with cool water and so forth—and never second-guess yourself about seeking emergency medical services.
Now you’re ready to go have some fun and frolic in the sun!