Adventures in Gardening: Sunny Risks

by David Soper

Since most of us like to spend a lot of time in our gardens, we need to consider one of the big risks. It is very easy to be exposed to ultraviolet rays which, at their worse, can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet rays consist of two components, UVA and UVB. Both can cause you injury.

Eighty percent of all skin cancers are on the face and neck. In addition, doctors tell us that UV light (of both kinds) may help to accelerate cataract formation and other age-related degeneration, as well as the risk of cancer on the eyelids.

A word about your kids. . .children and adults wearing tee- shirts for protection against the sun should consider this. A dry cotton tee-shirt provides roughly the same protection as SPF 15 sunscreen. But, as soon as it gets wet, through water or perspiration, it loses more than half its sun protection.

Polyester tees tend to give more protection, wet or dry, than do the cotton ones.

There are special sun-blocking clothes available that raise the SPF to 30. (I've ordered a cloth neckshade made that is made from Solarweave-tm. They claim independent lab tests show their fabric blocks 95% or more of UVB rays and 92% of UVA rays after two years of use.) And I live in Seattle!

Here are some great rules to follow. The New York Post ran these. They are from The Sun Smart Institute, Box 20471 in Alexandria VA 22320.

  1. Always wear a light, well-made, wide brimmed hat. The scalp, face, nose, ears, eyes and neck are where most sun damage occurs.

  2. Wear a hat at the garden center or nursery; just wandering around the outdoor aisles while shopping can be hazardous. Take no risks!

  3. Wear sunglasses that block 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation to protect eyes from cataract and other damage. Check product labels.

  4. Light-colored, tightly woven, loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirts and pants will keep the body cool while protecting the skin.

  5. Exposed skin and lips should be covered generously and repeatedly with a high SPF (15+) sunblock--even while wearing a hat! As dirt and sweat are wiped from the face, sunscreens can also be removed (even waterproof formulas). It is important to re-apply throughout the day.

In addition, several doctors strongly advise to limit your outdoor exposure to between the hours of 10 and 4. Remember, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. Good luck and cool, safe gardening.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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