Stay pale, stay healthy


By Sam Pulling

With summer right around the corner, it’s time for a reminder: The sun is not our friend.

More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually, and of those, 90 percent of them are cause by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

However, for being the most common form of cancer, it is also the most preventable.

UV rays are dangerous, and it’s our responsibility this summer to take care of our skin and protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays. We need to take steps to prevent skin cancer and premature aging.

Step 1: Sunscreen

Everyone knows we should wear sunscreen outside. We’ve heard our mothers, doctors and pale friends (OK, I’m the pale friend in this case) remind us how important sunscreen is; we might throw on a quick layer of sunscreen before a day on the beach and call it good, but it’s not good enough.

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Now, I’m not talking about being outside for seven hours and putting sun protection factor 4 on after the first two hours; I’m talking about real sunscreen protection. Because it only takes fifteen minutes for UV rays to damage skin, if there’s a chance you’ll be outside, you need to be putting on sunscreen. In fact, you should really be putting it on 30 minutes before you go outside.

Unless you want leathery skin at age 30, SPF 4 just won’t cut it. The higher the SPF number, the more protection the sunscreen offers. You should really be purchasing at least an SPF 15 but preferably higher.

While putting on your sunscreen, really take the time to make sure you’re getting every nook and cranny of exposed skin. My ears, my scalp and the top of my feet are just a few spots that I know I often miss.

Every two hours, reapply. Sunscreen wears off every few hours, especially if you’re getting wet or wiping off several times. Go for a swim? Reapply. Sweat it all off? Reapply. Breathe? Reapply. (OK, not the last one, but seriously, reapply your sunscreen every few hours for maximum protection.)

Step 2: Know what to wear

One of the last things people want to do in 80 degree weather is cover themselves head to toe in clothing, but really, covering ourselves a little isn’t the worst idea. A parka might be a little overkill, but a swim cover-up or a light button-up can offer more protection than just sunscreen.

Tightly woven fabrics are the best protection from the sun’s rays. Meaning, if your obnoxious cousin throws you in the pool fully dressed, change into some dry clothes before you go back into the sun. While you’re picking out an outfit, look for darker colors; they’ll block out the UV rays more than lighter colored clothing.

As cute as straw sunhats are, they really offer little protection from the sun. The small holes let the sunlight in, thereby defeating the purpose of your hat. Try a hat with solid fabric and a wide brim. The brim should shade your face, ears and neck. Boys, don’t worry about finding a sunhat if that’s not your style. A baseball hat will be OK, just make sure to sunscreen your ears and neck!

Sunglasses are not only a phenomenal accessory, but they’re also great sun protection for your eyes. While you shop for new sunglasses in the next couple of weeks, make sure you’re buying ones that block UV rays.

Step 3: Do not indoor tan

I will keep this short and sweet because we’ve heard this over and over again: Do not use tanning beds. Using a tanning bed makes you 2.5 times more likely to get skin cancer.

On top of that, according to McKinley Health Center, indoor tanning can lead to wrinkles, eye damage, first-and second-degree burns and even immune system damage.

I personally don’t want to look 50 at 25, so I’ll be avoiding the tanning beds. I suggest you do the same.

Step 4: Times to avoid the sun

The sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. So, if possible, plan to stay out of direct sunlight during these times.

McKinley calls it the “Shadow Rule.” If your shadow is shorter than you are, you should stay out of the sun. The sun is at its peak level at those times, and therefore, is the most damaging.

You also need to be aware of medications you’re taking. Some drugs can cause sun sensitivity. That sensitivity can lead to rashes or even cell death. So before you head out to the beach, check in with your doctor to make sure a sunburn is your only concern.

Let’s all do our best to stay healthy and burn-free this summer. Be healthy, Illini.

Sam is a sophomore in Media.

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