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Chicago shines bright in the summer, but beware of sunburn as it heats up

The city shines bright in the sun, but the heat is no joke.

Groups of people sit and walk along Chicago’s Lakefront, Thursday, June 25, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

We love a Chicago summer. The city shines bright in the sun, but the heat is no joke.

Chicagoans should always be on the lookout for sunburns and heat exposure, especially headed into this hot weekend.

The UV index forecast for Thursday was already at an 8, meaning “very high.” National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Borchardt says there will be widespread 90-degree temperatures throughout the weekend.

“Really just the whole weekend it’s an equal risk for heat-related illnesses and sunburns,” Borchardt said.

While you can get a sunburn from exposure any time throughout the day, Borchardt said 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. are the peak times to watch out for. During that period, you can get hit in less than 30 minutes.

“It’s really a good idea to wear sunscreen any time you’ll be in the sun,” Borchardt said.

Why does the UV index matter? If it’s hot, it’s hot, right?

The UV index is how much skin-damaging UV radiation reaches the earth’s surface at any given time.

There are two types of UV radiation that can affect your skin, UVA and UVB — both bad for your skin. They are both linked to skin cancer and a weakening immune system and can contribute to premature aging and cataracts.

What’s the difference between UV indexes and what can I do for each?

Low: A low UV index of less than 2 is ideal. You can enjoy being outside safely with some sunglasses and if you burn easily, cover up and grab some SPF 30+.

Moderate: When you hit a moderate UV index between 3-5, keep that SPF 30+ on you. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests staying in the shade during midday hours when the sun’s most intense UV radiation is out and about.

High: With a UV index of 6 or 7, it’s time to bring out the wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt or pants. Keep wearing that SPF 30+ and stay in the shade during those midday hours.

Very High and Extreme: For a UV index of 8-11 or higher, if you’re going outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., a shirt, hat and sunscreen are necessary. And for beachgoers headed to Lake Michigan this weekend: that white sand reflects UV and can double your UV exposure, so be aware.

You can check your current local UV index by zip code here.

What does SPF actually mean, and how do I know which one to use?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The EPA recommends broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

The Federal Drug Administration agrees but goes even further to say that if your skin is fair, you may want a higher SPF of 30 to 50. You can find out if your sunscreen is a broad spectrum from its label.

If you usually put sunscreen on when you first get outside, don’t stop there. The FDA says you should apply it 15 minutes before going outside and then reapply every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating.

They added that an average-sized adult or child needs at least one ounce of sunscreen — or a shot glass worth — to evenly cover their body from head to toe.

If you can get to a pool or a beach, that’s a great way to cool off, Borchardt said. And it’s always a good idea to check on your loved ones or neighbors, especially the elderly.

We’ll leave you with a few debunked myths from the EPA

Myth: A sun tan is good for you, establishing a “base sun tan” that protects you from sun damage.

Reality: A tan is your body defending itself from any further damage from UV radiation. Any change to your skin’s natural color is a sign of damage.

Myth: Sunscreen protects you so you can sunbathe longer.

Reality: Sunscreen shouldn’t be used to increase sun exposure but to increase protection during unavoidable exposure.

Myth: If you take breaks while you sunbathe, you won’t get burned.

Reality: UV radiation exposure is cumulative during the day.

Stay cool, Chicago!