Ask a Nurse: Essential Summer Safety Tips

We’re in the middle of summer and that means plenty of time at the beach, basketball court, pool, and theme parks. But it’s also the hottest season in an already hot state. It’s important to remember to protect your skin and body so that you can enjoy your time outside and stay healthy.

A top-down view of a group of people in bathing suits laying on floats in a large swimming pool.

Before we get to the things to watch out for - there are plenty of good reasons to spend time in the sun. AHU nursing professor, Marika Whitaker, CEN, RN, explains, “Vitamin D is vital to absorb[ing] calcium [and] helps with bone formation…to help maintain the health of bones and teeth. [It also] supports the health of the immune system, brain and, nervous system. [It] also can help reduce depression [and aid] weight loss according to some studies.”

There are many other benefits of staying where it’s sunny. Studies have shown that expose to sunlight may help reduce blood pressure. And Vitamin D has been shown to reduce cholesterol. And it can help skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, eczema and fungal infections. The sun’s ultraviolet light has even been shown to kill bacteria in areas it reaches.

We know the sun is an integral part of wellness. But take note of these sometimes-overlooked precautions before you forage out into the sunny land of Florida summertime.

Protecting Your Skin

A woman in a bathing suit touches her shoulder with a sun shape drawn with sunscreen on her back.

For all its positives, we know that too much sun exposure can cause damage to your skin and overall health. Sunlight also produces UV radiation which can lead to “premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and even skin cancer”, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website.

Always use some form of skin protection. This can be clothing or accessories such as a wide-brimmed hat, UV-absorbent sunglasses, or some type of cover up to go over your bathing suit when you’re not in the water.One of the most common and important ways to protect your skin, even when you’re covered up, is to wear sunscreen.

When shopping for sunscreen, look for one that is water resistant and “broad-spectrum”. Broad spectrum means it can protect you from UVA and UVB rays. SPF is often seen on sunscreen lotions and stands for “sun protection factor”. SPF represents how much UVB light the product can filter out. For instance, SPF 15 blocks up to 93% of UVB rays while SPF 50 blocks up to 98%.

You may think that buying the highest SPF level available would be your best bet, but it’s not that simple. Very high SPF ratings don’t always offer a significant amount of additional protection and they often create an illusion of security for consumers that leads to them not re-applying as often or skipping other sun protection methods.

Dermatologists generally recommend at least SPF 30. Going with SPF 30 is also a good way to remember to apply your initial layer sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you’re out in the sunlight.

Ideally you would remember to slather more on every 2 hours, but you should at least reapply after you go swimming or are sweating a lot. No matter what level of SPF you buy, you must continuously reapply and still seek shade and limit sun exposure. No single sunscreen can completely protect you from the various waves that comprise sunlight, so use more than one protection method.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that sun protection methods are only important for people with light or pale skin. Higher levels of melanin that are associated with darker skin tones do mean that fewer UV rays penetrate your skin. However, it’s not enough to prevent skin cancer or even sun burn. And too much exposure can prematurely age your skin with changes in pigmentation and uneven skin tone.

Treating Sunburn

Two sunflowers, a bottle of lotion, and sunglasses lay on a green background.

Even if you take precautions against getting a sunburn, it can still happen. Too much fun in the sun can lead to forgetting to reapply or sometimes you miss a spot when applying your lotion. Most of us have experienced the stinging, crimson heat of a sunburn. Here are some tips to find sweet relief for that angry burn.

Professor Whitaker recommends ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation (read the bottle for safety concerns before using) and take frequent cold showers followed by an application of cream or lotion. She personally mixes her own sunburn balm using fresh aloe, coconut oil, and high-grade lavender essential oil.

Whether you create your own or purchase one from a store, invest in a sunburn cream to sooth your skin. Aloe Vera-based products are a common treatment, particularly for mild to moderate sunburns. Products with shea butter can provide additional moisture and hydration for parched skin. To decrease inflammation, look for products that contain hydrocortisone. If you have sensitive skin, avoid products that contain added alcohol, color, or fragrances.

For severe sunburns, avoid additional sun exposure as much as possible to let it heal. And find a good lotion to treat any blistering skin. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water to rehydrate.

Treating Heat Stroke

A thermometer showing 100 degree Fahrenheit and 40 degree Celsius is propped up in the sand at a beach.

It’s crucial to avoid becoming overheated to the point of passing out. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s internal cooling system is overcome by heating. This results in a high core body temperature, usually above 104℉, and can lead to serious medical complications, including organ damage, seizures, coma, and even death.

Know the early warning signs of a heat stroke and pay attention to any unusual feelings when you’re outside for a long period of time to avoid a serious problem. Common signs and symptoms of heat stroke are dizziness, nausea, fast, strong pulse, confusion, and/or a headache along with red, hot, and dry or damp skin, muscle weakness, and lack of sweating even though you’re hot.

People with heat stroke may also experience cramping, vomiting, increased heart rate and fast breathing. Whitaker warns, “This can be a medical emergency! So, seek medical attention!” Her early treatment advice is to, “Avoid excessive heat, submersing in cold water, [using] evaporative cooling tech like a cool mist fan, [and putting] ice to [the] groin, neck, armpits, and back.”

You can also give the person cool water if they are alert and not vomiting but avoid anything sugary or caffeinated. Also, resist the instinct to give them ice cold drinks as this can cause stomach cramps.

To prevent heat stroke, pay attention to the weather and avoid being out in direct sunlight too long when the temperatures are especially high. Drink plenty of fluids and wear clothes that allow evaporative cooling. Cotton, linen, and rayon are some of the best fabrics for hot weather. Choosing materials that are labeled “moisture-wicking” or quick-drying will help reduce sweat and aid your body’s natural cooling system.

The underside of a dock over the water with the legs of various people hanging over the side.

Don’t get beat by the heat this summer! Follow these tips to spend the season safely enjoying Florida’s beautiful sunshine and soaking up those positive sunny vibes. Thanks, Professor Whitaker, for sharing your expertise with us!

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