By MS. RITA HESS, Staff Writer
In the throes of winter, I like to daydream about warm, sunny beaches. My summertime essentials—whether I am seaside or landlocked—include sunscreen, sunglasses, large quantities of water, and a beach towel. Actually, my packing list for winter is much the same (minus the beach towel). Let me explain.
If you have ever been sunburned, you know it is painful and unattractive. It also increases your risk for skin cancer, particularly if your complexion is fair or you are not accustomed to being outdoors. Skin cancer is now occurring at epidemic levels, with more than five million new cases1 diagnosed annually. Melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) is now one of the most common cancers among young people ages 15-29.2
The danger does not pass when temperatures change. Autumn months can be cool and cloudy, and winter brings ice and snow to many locations. Both of those can cause sunburn, which makes it critical to wear sunscreen year round.
Oh, and please don’t stop grabbing the sunscreen. If you partake in cold-weather recreation that is even remotely risky (i.e., snow skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, snowmobiling), use appropriate safety gear. Healthy skin is great, but it will not protect you from broken bones.
The sun can also burn your eyes, and that type of burn is equally nasty in the short term. Symptoms may include eyes that water or itch, feel dry and scratchy, or are sensitive to light. Long-term effects, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, can include an increased likelihood of developing cataracts.3
A wide-brimmed hat can help but may not always be practical, especially on the job. In that case, opt for sunglasses as part of your year-round outdoor gear whether skies are sunny, cloudy, or snowy. Make them mandatory for everyone in your family—even (or especially) children. Ask your eye doctor for sunglasses with the appropriate protection, and size matters, as larger frames can keep rays from creeping over the top or around the sides of your shades.
If you think increasing your water intake only applies to summer months, think again. In fact, winter activities can dehydrate you too. The problem is that people scale back on water in cooler months, perhaps because they don’t sweat as much and simply do not feel thirsty. Dehydration, which is the body’s lack of water, causes the same symptoms in all seasons: nausea and faintness. It can also negatively affect your ability to resist the cold, and that can increase your chance of injury.
Dehydration can also increase your chances of becoming hypothermic. This potentially life-threatening condition occurs when the body’s core temperature dips to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people mistakenly believe it only happens due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. On the contrary, people can get hypothermia when temperatures are above freezing, especially if exposed to wet conditions for an extended period.
Something else you may not realize about increased water consumption is how helpful it can be when you are adjusting to higher altitudes. The older you get—and the larger the change from what you are accustomed to—the harder it can be to acclimate to a new environment. Listen to your body when going to a higher altitude, whether a permanent relocation or just a winter retreat. If you don’t have a few days to adjust slowly, take ample rest breaks.
4. BEACH TOWEL
I don’t really take one with me everywhere I go during the winter. But now that I think about it, I could use it to clean up the gunk I track in on my shoes or boots so nobody slips and falls in the puddles I create. Or I could use it as an added layer of warmth in case my car breaks down. Or I could just wrap it around my shoulders as I doze off on break and dream about that warm Caribbean resort I visited last summer … ahhhhhhh!
1American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2018, page 1, available at www.cancer.org.
2United States Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/sunsafety/health-effects-uv-radiation.
3American Academy of Ophthalmology at www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/sunglasses-3.