Oh, Sunny Day
Come to Sunny Southwest Florida.” That’s not just a come- on slogan for tourists. It really is sunny down here. Officially, the state gets about 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. That means the sun is out nearly 70 percent of the time. You can bump that percentage up even a little higher in the winter, the peak of the visitor season, when there’s less cloud cover to hide the sun. Even in the wetter summer months, you often get hours of sun before clouds develop in the afternoon. A sunny day makes you feel better, and sunlight helps the body make vitamin D. But, be warned, you can get too much of a good thing.
“Many Southwest Floridians enjoy the year- round outdoor lifestyle— fishing, boating, golf, tennis,” says Dr. Andrea Cambio, medical director of Cambio Dermatology in Cape Coral. “It is important to protect ourselves from the dangers of sun exposure.”
Part of that sunlight we l ove i s composed of ultraviolet rays known as UVA and UVB. These are the rays that affect the skin. “It is not uncommon for visitors to forget how powerful the rays are,” says Dr. Timothy Dougherty, medical director for the Cape Coral Hospital Emergency Department. “I have taken care of several patients who have suffered first- degree ( redness, pain) and/ or second- degree ( blistering of the skin) sunburn.”
But sunburn is not the only damage the sun’s rays can do to the skin. “Ultraviolet light is directly responsible for our skin’s aging and wrinkling,” says Cambio, “but also for skin cancer— the most common type of cancer.” And melanoma, the more deadly skin cancer, can result from just a few extreme sunburns. Cambio recommends an annual skin check by a dermatologist.
The hours around noon are when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.
“The higher the angle of the sun, the more intense the UV exposure,” points out Melissa L. Griffin, assistant state climatologist for Florida. “On the summer solstice, the sun is nearly overhead,” she adds. Actually for much of the summer, UV rays are potent. “We are the closest you can get to the equator while still being in the continental United States,” says Griffin. She also warns that even days with light cloud cover can have high UV exposure and cause sunburns. Keep in mind that UV rays reflect off the sparkling white- sand beaches and glistening Gulf water.
To better inform the public about the risk of ultraviolet rays, the UV Index was developed. The index gives a numerical value to the expected maximum UV risk for a day. Values can range from 0 ( at night) to 16 ( summer in the tropics). The National Weather Service produces UV Index forecasts daily, and most of your typical weather reports ( newspapers, radio and television) will include them. The UV Index can start hitting 9 in March
in Southwest Florida, and during the summer months, it can routinely reach 11, the extreme zone.
To protect yourself from those harmful UV rays seek shade when the sun is the strongest, between 10 a. m. and 4 p. m. If you must be outdoors, Cambio advises using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. “Reapply the sunscreen a minimum of every two hours while outdoors,” she recommends, along with wearing sunprotective clothing.
Today, there’s a wide variety of stylish clothing lines that are specifically created to provide UV sun protection. On Sanibel Island, you can find great outdoor attire at Adventures in Paradise outfitters in the Tahitian Shopping Center. “We carry quick dry shirts, shorts, pants and widebrim hats, all of which provide a sunprotection rating of UPF30 and UPF50,” says Josh Stewart, who works at the family’s store. “We also carry the ultrapolarized, high- performance sunglass line that is perfect when on the water or in the sun all day,” he adds. Since UV exposure contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts, sunglasses are a must for anyone going out in Florida’s sunshine.
Those who work outdoors, boat captains and fishing guides, are always happy to share sound advice. “Out on the water for sometimes as long as nine hours, I always make sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and especially sunscreen,” says Capt. Noah, head captain for Adventures in Paradise, a Sanibel- based touring and fishing business. “And I prefer to use a sunblock that is not harmful to the sea life and reefs.”
Capt. Noah realizes that many of his customers are so excited about their fishing trips that protecting themselves from the sun is often overlooked. “We suggest to bring and wear sunscreen and that wearing wide- brim hats will help. We supply umbrellas for our guests. I advise guests that we have a very intense tropical sun, so every precaution needs to be taken to protect their skin, and especially important is protecting the small children,” he emphasizes.
With the right safeguards, you can enjoy yourself in the abundant Florida sunshine and still stay healthy. And if you’re thinking about that tan, forget it. As Cambio likes to say: “There is no such thing as a safe tan.”
When in the sun, protect your skin by wearing shirts made of fabrics with tight weave construction, UV absorbers and UV reflectors.
Below: Sterling Novotny, ecotour guide of Adventures Kayaking, encourages folks to wear polarized sunglasses, wide- brim hats, sunblock shirts and even long pants when out on the water.