Protecting Your Skin From the Sun

Check out these tips for protecting yourself from heat- and sun-related illnesses.

Photo by: iStock


Heat-related illnesses, sunburn, skin cancer — the result of overexposure to the sun can be more than just uncomfortable; it can be life-threatening. Here are master gardener Paul James' recommendations for staying safe:

Limit Outdoor Work

Consider working in the garden during the cooler early morning and early evening hours when the sun's angle and intensity are lower. Doing so will lessen your exposure and reduce the risk of overheating. Even in the middle of summer, temperatures can be at least 10 degrees and very often 20 to 30 degrees cooler during these times.

"I prefer to garden between sunup and 10 am," says James, "and again for about an hour before sunset. But in the middle of summer, I try to avoid really strenuous chores such as digging or laying stone no matter what time it is." Of course, early morning and early evening are also the times when mosquitoes are most active, so be sure to protect yourself.

Try to avoid working during periods of high humidity. High heat coupled with high humidity increases the risk of heat-related problems. Moisture in the air makes it much harder for your sweat to evaporate. Your body can't get rid of excessive heat nearly as fast or as efficiently when it's muggy outside as when the air is relatively dry.

Consider your own physical limitations. "I've come to grips with the fact that, having now passed the half-century mark, I can't work as long or as hard as I once could in the heat, so I try to take more breaks and accept the fact that I'm no spring chicken any more."

Wear Proper Clothing and a Hat

Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and if you're fair-skinned, consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt as well as long pants. Light cotton and other breathable fabrics are actually quite comfortable, and their long forms offer protection from the sun as well as mosquitoes. Says James: "One of my favorite gardening shirts is actually a fishing shirt. It's made of cotton, it's loose-fitting, and it features a mesh back that allows air to circulate freely. And because it's white, it reflects the heat. I don't wear it on the show because white creates problems on camera-exposure settings."

Garden Hat Chic

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Bucket List

Sure to be the hat we grab first for a day in the garden, this Solar Bucket Hat from Sunday Afternoons comes in a variety of plain and fancy color options, but we are partial to this fun girly-Pink Camo (there's also a plain Camo, for traditionalists) version. Though this hat has plenty of fashion flair, it's fully functional for getting down to garden business, as in: packable, water-repellant, ventilated with a chinstrap for windy days. Whatever you have to throw at this hat, it can take it.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Sunday Afternoons

The Last Straw

Super-functional and cute too, the SmartStraw Sedona Sun Hat is a one-size-fits-all wonder featuring a cotton lining for extra comfort and 50+ UPF protection.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Duluth Trading Company Crusher Packable Sun Hat

With a UPF of 50+ this Duluth Trading Company sun hat promises to keep dangerous rays at bay.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Duluth Trading Company

Shape Shifter

Coolibar's Shapeable Bucket Hat features a moisture-wicking internal sweatband to keep things cool (along with 50+ UPF) and is travel-friendly, easily stored in a suitcase, bag or even a back pocket.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Everyone Needs a Hat

Few garden tools are as indispensable as a great hat. This San Diego Bucket Hat is packable, one-size-fits-all, has a UPF of 50+ and looks pretty cute too.

Photo By: Image courtesy of L.L. Bean

Trekt Outdoors Helios Sun Hat

This high 50+ UPF Helios sun hat has an ample brim to keep shade on the run, a drawcord for use in heavy winds and a design that holds up to multiple washings.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Trekt Outdoors

Women's Work Paisley Hat

Bordering on the mod, this WomansWork Paisley Hat is 100% cotton which means it's washable. This hat is stylish enough to wear to festivals or a casual garden party. But there's more! It's reversible, with an equally cute checked design to swap out when you tire of paisley.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Women's Work

Low-Key Lid

We love this stylishly low-key garden hat option for when you don't want a huge brim or a lid festooned with flowers and frou-frou. This Eclipse hat from Sunday Afternoons comes in four color options (though we're partial to Slate) and keeps things cool with ventilated panels and wicking, UPF +50 fabric. It's packable too, making it ideal for garden tour road trips. Bonus: it comes in men's and women's sizes.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Sunday Afternoons

Cotton Keeps Its Cool

The Everyday Cotton hat from Coolibar, like all this brand's toppers, features a 50+ UPF and comes in nine colors from brights to neutrals.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Hip Hat

Add some swagger to your garden routine with this adorable, colorful Ripstop Military Cap from Duluth Trading Company.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Duluth Trading Company

Light as a Feather

The Featherweight Bucket hat is washable, 50+ UPF, features a draw cord to keep things stable on windy days and comes in five classic shades, making it a close-to-perfect garden hat.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Coolibar Pink Sun Shade Visor

It’s nice to have a terrycloth sweatband to help wick away perspiration on hot days, like the built-in band in Coolibar's Sun Shade Visor. The visor is hand washable, made from cotton canvas and air-dries quickly. Rated UPF 50+, it has a 4”-wide brim to shelter your skin from damaging rays. The visor comes in pink, lilac, blue and other colors. Best of all, you can roll it up and stick it in your pocket at the end of the day, and it’ll pop right back into shape. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Sunny Spot

The Shapeable Sun Catcher Hat is lightweight, packable, washable, 50+ UPF and has a handy cord to keep it secure in all types of weather.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Wear a hat. Baseball caps are OK, but they don't protect the ears and neck. A better choice would be a wide-brimmed hat, which offers maximum protection. Those made of woven materials are often cooler as well.

Drink Plenty of Water

When it comes to being the best hydrater, water is king. Sport drinks are okay as well, but water is often more readily available. Coffee and alcohol, on the other hand can hasten ill effects of dehydration. And under most circumstances, salt tablets aren't all that necessary. In fact, taking salt tablets may actually raise your body's sodium level to hazardous levels.

Plant Trees

The shade cast by trees not only offers protection from the sun but also offers a cool spot for taking regular breaks. Even small trees are better than no trees at all.

Beware of Heat Illnesses

Heat cramps are muscle contractions, usually in the abdomen or the hamstring muscles. The contractions are often forceful and can be quite painful. If you experience heat cramps, rest immediately in a cool spot and drink plenty of water.

Heat exhaustion is more serious, and the symptoms include paleness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting and a moderate rise in body temperature not technically due to fever but rather heat. Rest and water along with ice packs and a cool environment may help in mild cases. More severe cases may require the introduction of IV fluids.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness, and it's a medical emergency. The classic symptoms include the absence of sweat and a very high temperature. Very often, the victim is delirious or unconscious and may have seizures as well. Victims of heat stroke require immediate emergency medical treatment.

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