As temperatures start to rise outside, Oklahoma is nearing the season when area residents will look to enter the summer with a nice tan.
While they might like to get a nice glow, it’s important to keep the skin safe. People of all races can damage their skin from too much sunlight or from tanning beds, which can lead to skin cancer. Heather Winn, family and consumer science educator for the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County, said the UV rays from tanning beds are no safer than what people would receive from natural sunlight.
“It’s not smarter to tan indoors using a tanning bed,” said Winn. “It’s not any kind of different tan. The safest tan to have is probably just a spray-on or some kind of lotion you can use.”
The region is home to many places for outdoor recreation, so while residents enjoy their time outside floating the river, boating on the lake, or visiting an area park, precautions are necessary for preventing sunburns and skin damage. The first step to take would be sunscreen.
Winn recommends a sunscreen SPF of at least 15, although those with a lighter complexion might want to choose something higher. It’s best to apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. She also said wearing sunglasses and a hat will help prevent the eyes and head from burning.
“Farmers are smart,” she said. “They’ll have long-sleeved shirts on even in the summertime. Most of the time, they’re kind of a lightweight fabric, which protects their skin form the sun, and also the sunglasses and hat.”
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans develops skin cancer by age 70, and more than two people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour. So those who don’t protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays could be at risk later down the road.
“My dad had some skin cancer and he had to have part of his ear removed, because he went outside a lot as a kid,” said Winn. “He was a little bit older when he had to have that removed, but he didn’t think about it in his younger years, so he went too much without a hat on.”
She encourages staying in the shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., as sun is most intense during that time. It’s also important to be cautious around water and sand, as these surfaces reflect rays and increase the risk of sunburns. Babies younger than 6 months should be completely covered and in the shade.
One layer of sunscreen is not always enough. Oftentimes, people don’t think to reapply protection until after it’s too late. To remind 4H students during summer camp last year to reapply, Winn used beads that change color to show students when it was time to add another layer.
“So we put the beads on them and then we put sunscreen on the kids,” she said. “Then we put the sunscreen on the beads, and whenever the beads changed colors, the kids would know that they needed to reapply. A lot of times, people put sunscreen on once and they don’t think about it again, so we did that activity so they would pay attention and reapply sunscreen.”