Summer is well underway, which means we’ve all been spending long days in the sun, out in nature, and in the water. There’s a lot to gain from getting outside—in terms of both the physical and mental health benefits—but there’s also a need to keep safety in mind. One of our pediatric care providers, Mike Neutkens, PA-C, offered his top summer safety tips for people of all ages.
It’s important to keep skin protected in the summer, especially if you’re spending several hours outdoors at a time. And a few weeks or months into summer, it can be easy to start forgetting to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Neutkens recommends applying broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and reapplying it every few hours.
“Sunscreen is one of the biggest things,” Neutkens said. “At least an SPF of 15-30.” Neutkens noted that while research has shown incremental benefits up to SPF 50, beyond that, “we don’t really know that it does a whole lot more.” In other words, you don’t need to use SPF 90 or 100 to get great protection.
Children as young as 6 months can wear sunscreen, Neutkens said. (If a child younger than 6 months is going to be exposed to sun for extended periods, it’s OK to put a little sunscreen on their hands, he said.)
Clothing is key as well. Neutkens advised dressing in lightweight clothing that keeps arms and legs well covered. Tightly woven fabrics work best, as they let less light pass through, Neutkens said. He also recommended wearing hats with wide brims and sunglasses that offer UV protection.
Some medications can increase photosensitivity, which in turn can make you more prone to sun damage. Neutkens advised checking the labels on your prescriptions and checking in with your doctor or pharmacist so you’re aware of any increased risk.
In addition to sun protection, you’ll also want to keep your skin protected from ticks. Deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, so if you’re outside, especially in heavily wooded areas, it’s important to use bug spray. Neutkens recommends using a bug spray with DEET.
“People are scared of DEET for some reason,” he said. “But up to 30 percent DEET is OK.”
Neutkens said children as young as 2 months old can safely wear a DEET-based bug spray. “There are a lot of different over-the-counter natural infant bug sprays, but none of those are well-regulated or even proven to work well,” Neutken said, “whereas DEET is proven effective and proven safe.”
You only need to apply bug spray to exposed skin, though you can also spray it on the clothes you’re wearing for added protection, Neutkens said.
It’s a good idea to do hair and body checks for ticks after coming back in from a day outdoors. It takes 36 hours for a deer tick to transmit Lyme, Neutkens said, so if you check every day, you can reduce your risk of transmission.
Neutkens also offered a few tips for keeping kids and families safe around water, especially in light of recent reports of a nationwide lifeguard shortage.
“Talk to kids,” Neutkens said. “Make sure they know they should never, ever swim alone or without an adult present. Even if they think they’re good swimmers—a lot of them are—they still should be sure there’s an adult around.”
Neutkens noted that adults should avoid distractions, like being on their phones instead of attentively watching kids around water.
Life preservers are also an important water safety tool. Make sure your child is wearing the size that’s appropriate for their weight and that they’re actually wearing their life jacket—not just stowing it—when out on a boat.
If you’re looking for a good way to get your kids into swimming lessons, local community centers—like V3 Sports and others—usually offer lessons for kids as young as 6 months. “Almost all community education centers, in any given city—almost all of them offer swimming lessons for pretty darn cheap,” Neutkens said, and many offer sliding scale rates for families who qualify.
Finally, after all that fun in the sun—and all the sunscreen, bug spray, chlorine and everything else—it’s a good idea to wash yourself off at the end of the day.