Tips for a healthy summer

Sunscreen is essential in summer months, as well as monitoring your skin. (Andrea Thyrring).

The weather is getting warmer, which means it’s time for sundresses, shorts and tank tops. But as you get dressed in the morning, don’t forget an important step — sunscreen. While at least 15 minutes of unblocked sunlight outside of peak hours (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.) provides your body with needed vitamin D, long lengths in the sun can cause damage.

Before you start your summer season, give yourself the once-over. Do you have any new growths, moles or freckles? Your body is always changing, so finding something new is not cause for alarm. But checking for specific signs will help you identify anything worth bringing to your doctor’s attention.

If you have any moles or dark spots that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, have more than one color or are bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, you should get them checked out. More often than not they are benign, but some can be a precursor to skin cancer.

Red, scaly bumps that resemble a scar or have a depression in the middle can be questionable. Small, white bumps or sores on the skin that won’t heal should also be checked. Pre-existing moles or marks on your body that have changed should be checked as well.

Once you are ready to head outside, apply sunscreen. If you are fair-skinned or prone to sunburn, use at least a SPF 15. SPF refers to the “sun protection factor,” or the length of time that the sunscreen will protect your skin. For instance, if your skin normally starts to burn in 20 minutes, by applying SPF 15, you will put off burning for five hours – 15 times longer.

Be sure to use sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays cause sunburn, and UVA rays are a large contributor to wrinkling and other signs of aging. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide block harmful rays. If you intend to be outside for more than half an hour, bring your sunscreen with you. Reapply often, usually every two hours, if you are sitting outside. If you will be playing a sport, swimming or using a towel, the sunscreen is going to wear off sooner. Reapply after finishing certain activities.

Sunscreen isn’t the only protection you have at your disposal. The sensitive skin around your eyes will benefit from sunglasses that protect from the sun’s harmful rays. A hat with a wide brim protects your neck, ears and face – places people most often forget to apply sunscreen.

Once you are outside, it is important to stay hydrated. The sun can sap your energy and leave you parched. Keep a water bottle with you to stay cool and prevent overheating. Taking breaks in the shade is also recommended.

Remember, if you have any tattoos, be sure to apply sunscreen to protect their color and prevent fading. For more information, check out Prevention.com.

Andrea Thyrring can be reached at thyrrin2@tcnj.edu.