Samantha Larned, El Inde Arizona
Spring roared in this week with a mix of clouds and rain, but once the sun peaked out, Ma’ayn Cohen seized the opportunity.
“If it’s sunny, I will always find a chance to sit outside,” said the University of Arizona journalism student.
Cohen loves sunbathing Being from Flagstaff, she said that even cold days are warm enough for her, so long as it’s sunny. But even she has a limit; when it’s too warm.
“There’s a sweet-spot,” she said, “which is right now.”
Cohen does not always wear sunscreen, though she knows she should, but she is sure to always have a water bottle with her.
If it gets too hot, she’ll go inside or sit in the shade. Mostly, she said, she listens to her body.
With temperatures on the rise and the sun staying out longer, what exactly should we be listening for?
Tanning and Burning
“There’s no such thing as a healthy tan,” said Lee Ann Hamilton. “That’s an oxymoron.”
Hamilton is the assistant director of Health Promotion & Prevention Services with the UA’s Campus Health Service.
She said that a tan is actually damage; the darkening of the skin is the body’s way of protecting itself from the sun.
“When you get a tan it’s your body saying ‘Hey stop! I’m trying to protect myself’’,” Hamilton said.
For those who are going to tan anyway, Hamilton’s best advice is to “avoid a burn.” She said that you can get some color even when wearing sunscreen.
The best ways to protect yourself from a burn are to wear sunscreen daily, cover up with physical protection like sleeves, hats and sunglasses and avoid direct sun exposure during peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m, when the sun is at its most intense.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the UA Skin Cancer Institute.
“Skin cancer is largely preventable,” said Hamilton. “Some of it is familial, there may be genetic tendencies, but we have a lot of data about UV exposure and skin cancer.”
Getting burned increases the risk of melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported that in 2019, Arizona had 2,723 cases of invasive melanoma and 2,506 situ melanoma, meaning the cancer cells haven’t moved to the deeper layers of skin.
Skin cancer is usually treatable if caught early. The Skin Cancer Institute lists what to check for when conducting a self-examination. It instructs keeping an eye on new spots, moles and freckles and changes in those you already have. Warning signs may include asymmetry, size, border irregularity and varying color throughout.
Hamilton said that people with fair skin and lighter eyes and hair are at a higher risk for getting skin cancer, but people can get skin cancer no matter their skin color.
Avoiding burning, tanning booths and other forms of UV damage are good ways to reduce risk.
Heat and Hydration
Hamilton’s number one advice for staying safe in hot weather is to stay hydrated.
“Our bodies really do rely on having enough water, just for general health and common function: metabolizing food, regulating body temperature, immune system. It’s more important than food,” she explained.
Dehydration may lead to dizziness, nausea, stomach and muscle cramps, headaches and in extreme cases heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
For those who are going to be exercising outside or going on a hike, Hamilton advises pre-hydrating: drinking water before leaving the house.
She said for the best hydration, drink non-caffeinated beverages. Water is the best.
One of the warning signs for hydration is urine color. If your urine is clear, you’re hydrated. If it’s dark and yellow, you’re dehydrated.
The most severe heat reaction is heat stroke. Heat stroke is not common but it is life-threatening, Hamilton explained. It occurs when the body can no longer regulate heat. The skin becomes red and hot to the touch and the body stops sweating, as it tries to hold onto as much water as it can.
Sweating helps cool the body off, but according to Hamilton, with how dry it is here in Tucson it evaporates so quickly that people often don’t feel themselves losing the water. So it’s important to bring water with you and replace fluids.
“Replacing fluid is important to your health,” she said.
Hamilton does not have a single clear-cut recommendation for how much water a person should drink in a day. She says it varies by the person’s weight, size and other factors. Her best advice is to not wait until you’re thirsty.
“If you’re thirsty, you’re behind,” she said.