Seniors need to think about sun precautions

So what can we do to protect ourselves, and still enjoy these wonderful summer and fall days? Here are a few tips

Up until a few years ago I didn’t give much serious consideration to the importance of protecting my head from direct sunlight. Since I’d never experienced anything more serious than a little sunburn, I thought why bother wearing a hat or cap. It just felt unnecessary when I was running, or even working in the yard.  And it would only mess up my hair.

But, as the years have passed by, and the amount of hair on my head has significantly receded, more of my skin is exposed to the rays of the sun. As a result, I’ve now had to have two malignant skin cancers removed … one on top of my head, and the other behind my left ear.

For me, that was a “wake-up call.”  A stunning reminder that I’m not invincible, and that I need to take seriously the harmful effects that can result from too much wonderful sun.

Now I realize that not all exposure to the sun is dangerous. In fact, the sun’s rays do have beneficial effects: UVB rays help us to produce vitamin D, essential for fixing calcium in the bones and visible light has an antidepressant effect, while infrared rays have a heating action which leads to a rise in skin temperature (an alarm signal to help us avoid sunburn.) All good things.

But  in the event of overexposure to the sun, the UVA and UVB rays can be particularly damaging. In the short term, they can cause sunburn and trigger pathological skin symptoms. But over longer periods, UVA and UVB rays are responsible for aging wrinkles, and especially for the emergence of skin cancer.

So what can we do to protect ourselves, and still enjoy these wonderful summer and fall days? Here are a few tips.

First, wear enveloping sunglasses with a high anti-UV factor, a wide-rimmed sun hat and loose, and if possible, long clothing (long-sleeved t-shirts and Bermuda shorts or trousers.)

Second, don’t trust your impressions. Since it is the infrared rays that make you start to feel too hot and not the UV rays, it is quite possible to be the victim of sunburn without having had the feeling that you have exposed your skin. And remember that an overcast sky does not entitle you to be less vigilant about the sun. The fact is, clouds let through far more UV rays than infrared rays and visible light. So the air temperature and brightness can diminish, but you’re still at risk from the ultraviolet rays.

Third, opt for shade rather than sun, while remembering that even shade does not represent total protection. Indeed, shade offers protection against the sun’s direct rays but not against the sun’s rays reflected off the ground (grass reflects 3 percent of the UV rays hitting it, sand between 5 and 25 percent, snow 30 percent to 80 percent, and water 5 to 90 percent.)

Fourth, if the temperature is high, you are in as much danger of getting heatstroke as sunburn, so make sure you’re hydrating very frequently.

Fifth, never expose your skin to the sun after applying perfume, or if you are taking certain medicines, without asking your doctor for advice.

And finally, don’t stay longer in the sun on the pretext that you have applied a high sunscreen. The aim of such products is not to increase the number of hours of exposure, but to reduce the risks during exposure.

After all is said and done, remember that we are not invincible. The sun is our friend, but we need to treat it with respect and caution.