It nurtures the seeds warms the soil; with it the plants we love blossom. But the sun that’s warm on our face is also wreaking havoc on our skin, and gardeners need to be savvy about sun protection.
“Sun does a lot of good; it’s good for mental health and makes you feel great. And 10 to 15 minutes twice per week is what you need for vitamin D,” says Mary Buller, Chair of the Skin Cancer Task force of the Colorado Cancer Coalition. “But more people are getting Melanoma in Colorado than in the rest of the United States. It’s a combination of three things: our altitude, 300 sunny days per year, and outdoor lifestyle.”
That outdoor lifestyle is what puts gardeners at risk, puttering away in our yards under the broiling sun. That we spend more time out there once we’re older increases the chances for skin cancer, since cumulative exposure over a lifetime is part of the risk factor.
“Scientists had been thinking that the most dangerous sun exposure you get is as a child; but a new study shows older humans can get just as much risk, or you make it worse,” she said, by heading outdoors once retirement arrives. Since gardening is a popular pastime, keep yourself safe with a few tips:
- Schedule your gardening around peak UV hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Climbing temperatures work in our favor by driving us indoors during the heat of the day. Cool mornings and evenings are the best time to garden and stay sun safe.
- Be smart when using sunscreen. SPF rating will tell you two things: how strong the sunscreen is and how long it will last. Lotion with SPF 15 blocks 93-percent of UVB, SPF 30 96-percent; beyond that there is a diminishing return on benefit versus cost, says Buller. “It’s impossible to block a hundred percent UVB, so the higher numbers – that often cost more – might not be a good purchase.”
Better to purchase slightly lower numbers and reapply more often, but to ensure protection, know how long your sunscreen lasts. Though that is unique to each person, Buller gives a simple equation for planning reapplication. “Take the number of minutes it takes for your skin to redden and multiply it by the SPF. The total is the length of time, in minutes, that sunscreen will work.” For example, if you redden in 12 minutes and use SPF 30, you should reapply it every six hours.
Not reapplying sunscreen often enough is one reason many end up sunburned, says Buller, but how you apply it is also a factor. A full ounce should be slathered on each time you apply it, using the two-finger method found on their website, sunsafecolorado.org/. Keep in mind that sweating reduces the length of time between applications, sometimes as often as every 40 minutes.
A combination of cover up and sunscreen is the best option for gardeners, so toss on a wide brimmed hat, slacks, and shirt with long sleeves before heading out. Inexpensive, lightweight, sun protective clothes made from wicking fabric take the heat out of covering up, and you won’t have to start spending more on your wardrobe for weeding than you do for your tools.
But if your budget prevents you from purchasing new clothes, grab a long sleeve shirt from your closet; as long as the fabric is tightly woven it helps. “Hold it up to the light, and if you can’t see light coming through it, that’s best.” Darker colors absorb UV, while white is better at reflecting it.