About now, the summer sun is finally here! Time to get outside and soak up some rays; what could possibly be wrong with this picture? If done right, nothing. While sun exposure is great for plants and people alike, being in the sun can pose a few dangers. Heat exhaustion, sunburns and even skin cancer can be some of the drawbacks from too much sun worshiping. We are not advocating staying indoors all summer, but just be aware of all the pleasures and pains that summer can bring.

Sunlight is good for you, it helps your body make Vitamin D. Vitamin D has been in the news recently for its ability to help prevent certain forms of cancer. There is also some evidence that it might play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. This important nutrient is also essential for the proper development of strong teeth and bones. People thought that vitamin D deficiency was a thing of the past, after they started fortifying milk with this vitamin. A recent medical study found that approximately 25% of people who lived in Southern Arizona were considered to be vitamin D deficient. This is quite shocking because Arizona is considered to be in the 'sun belt'.

Why is too much sunlight bad for us? The main reason is that, over time, excessive exposure to sunlight can lead to skin cancer. In the short term, too much exposure to sunlight can lead to sunburns, heat stroke or heat exhaustion. So what should one do? Sunlight is just like everything else in life, enjoy it in moderation and follow these tips:


  • Try to limit your exposure to the sun during its most intense times, between 10am and 4pm.    

  • Seek out shade whenever possible. Some people use an umbrella to make their own shade.    

  • Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved clothes and a broad brimmed hat to protect your face.

  • Wear your sunglasses.     

  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Don’t forget to apply it to the exposed, sensitive area(s) of your body, such as your nose, ears, neck and lips.    

  • Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours while in the sun and after swimming or excessive sweating.

Infant and toddlers should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Sunscreen use is not recommended for little ones under the age of 6 months.

So what else should one think about when out in the sun? The first thing we always tell people is to wear proper sunglasses. Sunlight can play a role in the development of various eye disorders including cataracts, cancer of the skin around the eye, and may contribute to age-related macular degeneration. Whenever you are out in the sun, you should be wearing sunglasses, especially your children. My little one has been wearing sunglasses since she was 6 months old. Some eye care experts believe that 50% of our lifetime sunlight exposure occurs before age 18. This does make sense; kids are told to go outside and play. When choosing a pair of sunglasses, look for a pair that states that it blocks 100% of both UV-A and UV-B light. It is very hard to find sunglasses in Canada that do not block both kinds of UV light. For maximum protection look for the kind that 'wrap around', this will prevent light from getting in from the sides. Basically, if you are outside and squinting, you should be wearing sunglasses. You don't need to get an expensive pair of sunglasses for them to be effective. More expensive pairs might be a little more fashionable or use better quality glass or plastic for the lenses. To all the Grandparents out there: if you can't think of a good gift to give your little treasures, why not give a pair of cool-looking sunglasses?

Another concern about summertime is sunstroke. What normally happens when we get too hot is that our bodies produce sweat in an attempt to cool off. This works just fine, but if this system is overwhelmed it can cause the body's core temperature to rise. This rise in core temperature can be quite serious. Mild increases in temperature can cause symptoms of confusion, dizziness, fainting or headaches. The blood vessels become dilated in an attempt to lower body temperature, thus giving the skin a bright red colour. As the body's temperature rises further, dehydration may occur and symptoms of chills, shivering, nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness may be seen. At this point medical attention is essential.

Prevention of heat exhaustion is easily done. Make sure you drink plenty of water if you are outside in the heat. The key word here is 'water', not coffee, beer or sports drinks. Wear light, loose fitting clothing, which will allow sweat to evaporate. During the hottest times of the day try to stay cool and avoid strenuous activities or exercise. One major cause of heat stroke is being trapped inside a car during a sunny day. On days where the temperature is 32C outside, the interior of car can reach 51C in 20 minutes. At these temperatures, heat stroke can occur within minutes. This can prove to be fatal for young children and pets. On average, 38 children die every year from being trapped inside cars on hot days. The same is true for the family pet, usually dogs. Never leave children or pets unattended in a car; leaving the windows slightly rolled down will not help.

You should still plan to enjoy the sun this summer, but be safe about it. Put your big hat on; stay in the shade when possible and try to avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm. Wear your sunscreen with 30SPF, especially on the feet, back of the hands and neck. These are very common places to get sun burnt. But don’t forget to get some sun exposure, it can keep your spirits up and help your body make vitamin D. Whenever you are in the sun just remember to ‘Slip, Slap, Slop’. Slip on your long sleeved T-shirt, slip into the shade, slap on your hat, and slop on your sunscreen.

AuthorMonique de Moor