This is the time of year when gardening just doesn't seem to be quite as much fun as it was back in May and June. Bugs and weeds are always one step ahead of me, while the hot, dry weather makes the flowers fade all too quickly. And no matter what the heat index, gardening chores still stare me in the face. Whether the chores are few or many, it's most important to remember to take care of ourselves as well as our plants. Protecting ourselves from sunburn and heat illnesses are essential now.
Some exposure to sunlight is revitalizing to the body and spirit, as well as a source of Vitamin D, but too much of a good thing can result in anywhere from first- to second-degree burns in the near term to the possibility of skin cancer in the longer term.
The solutions to preventing sunburn are relatively obvious, the difficult part is carrying them out. It's just too easy to run out the door. Try to do the right things as often as possible. For instance, avoid the brightest time of day, from about 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Don't be fooled by cloudy or hazy days, as 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays pass through clouds.
Wear a large-brimmed hat that will protect both your neck and face. Loosely woven straw hats protect yet readily allow heat to escape. Wear long sleeves and long pants if you can tolerlate them, otherwise apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to all exposed skin. Reapply every three to four hours if you're perspiring heavily. Apply a sun protection product specifically designed for lips, too.
To protect your eyes, wear sunglasses that provide ultraviolet (UV) light protection. Long-term exposure to sunlight has been linked with cataracts and macular degeneration.
If you do get a minor sunburn, there are a number of herbal treatments, but none is as effective as aloe vera, either as a purchased gel or pulp taken directly from a leaf. Reapply every hour until the pain is gone.
Preventing Heat-related Illnesses
Heat-related illnesses aren't confined to desert regions, so, once again, use common sense. Come indoors or work in the shade during the hottest part of the day and give yourself periodic cool-down breaks. There's no shame in deciding to stop working long before you feel ill.
Otherwise, the most important thing to remember is water, water, and more water -- before, during, and after being out in the heat. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which will further dehydrate the body, so save them for later. An additional way to stay safe in the heat is to wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
It's also wise to familiarize yourself with the types, symptoms, and treatment for the various types of heat illness. A web search will yield a number of sites that are helpful.