For many of us, carefree summer days are among the happiest memories from our youth. In that school-free stretch of sunshine and freedom, we’d run around without shoes on, cannonball into every body of water we could find, and fall asleep in the sun, smack-dab in the middle of the day.
If you burned, your parents might spray you down with Solarcaine before bed, and you’d be right back at it the next day.
Today, experts’ summer skin care tips often focus on preventing sun damage. You probably regularly slather sunscreen on your grandchildren (and, hopefully, yourself!). The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and, if you are going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, you should use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Apply one ounce of sunscreen all over your body 30 minutes before heading outside, and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
While sunscreen is key to summer safety, there’s more to staying healthy in the heat.
Keep Your Shoes On
The scratches and splinters you got as a kid probably weren’t enough to convince you that shoes were required as you ran around outside. As an older adult, however, shoes are a must.
Your feet may not be as sensitive to heat as they were in your younger years. Even though your feet can still be injured, their nerve endings may not send your brain the same “ouch!” alert that once caused you to pick your feet up off hot sand. As a result, you’re at increased risk of second- and third-degree burns on your feet. This risk is even higher if you have diabetes-related numbness in your feet.
Stay on the safe side, and keep your sandals on until you reach a cool surface or water.
Not Thirsty? Drink Up Anyway
Thirst is another sensation that gets less reliable as you age. Even when your body’s store of water runs low, you may not experience noticeable thirst before you’ve become dehydrated.
Medications and medical conditions that increase urination, such as uncontrolled or untreated diabetes, can worsen the problem.
To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Foods packed with water, such as most fruits and veggies, are also a smart choice.
Stay Out of the Midday Sun
Drifting off to sleep in the hot sun can lead to sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
If you’re spending the day outside, take a long break around lunchtime to get out of the sun. Summer skin care tips from the American Cancer Society include limiting direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Resting on a blanket in the shade can be a pleasant and prudent choice.
On especially hot days, it’s best to stay inside. You don’t need to stay home; switch planned outings to a public, air-conditioned space, such as a movie theater, shopping mall, or local library.
Watch for Signs of Heat Illness
Too much exposure to heat can literally make you sick. Older adults (those aged 65 and older) are at increased risk of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, because their bodies don’t adjust as well to temperature changes as younger people’s bodies do. Additionally, older adults are more likely to have chronic medical conditions or to be taking certain medications that can affect your body’s ability to regulate your temperature and sweat as needed.
Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, fatigue, clammy skin, headache, and nausea. Your muscles may cramp, and your pulse may speed up. If you develop these symptoms while in hot conditions, find shade quickly. Elevate your feet. Drink cool (not ice-cold) water and pour it on your wrists and feet to bring your body temperature down more quickly.
When heat exhaustion becomes heat stroke—a condition with similar but more severe symptoms—seek emergency medical care. Symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness, nausea, a rapid, strong pulse, hot and dry skin (with no sweating), a throbbing headache, and a body temperature of 103°F or higher.
By Nancy Burtis Boudreau