Before you head outdoors to play in sun and water, here’s a refresher course on summer health and safety. Not everything you learned as a kid is true, it turns out. Read on for what’s wrong … and what’s right.
1. You need 8 glasses of water a day
False! Even doctors get tripped up by this myth, according to an article in the British Medical Journal. Researchers found no medical evidence to support the 6–8 glasses of water a day recommendation. Let thirst be your guide, says the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences).
Tips: Especially as temperatures rise, pay attention to your body’s cues and watch for signs of dehydration: thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, or tiredness. Plain water is best when you’re thirsty, but water in any form counts for hydration — juice, milk, fruit, and even caffeinated drinks. So go ahead and order that iced coffee! And no, alcohol does not count as a water source.
2. The higher the SPF, the better
Only partly true. While you want at least SPF 15 to 30, anything over 50 doesn’t mean much — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even considered capping SPF labels at “50+.” Dermatologists say these ultra-high SPF products aren’t worth the extra money, since SPF 30 blocks nearly 97 percent of UVB rays. (SPF 40 blocks 98 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 99 percent.) In fact, super-high SPF might give you a false sense of security. Their protection falls off sharply if you don’t use enough, and you probably aren’t using enough. Most people only use a quarter to half of the amount they need, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Tips: Stick with a sun protection factor between 30 and 50, and make sure the formulation is “broad spectrum” to guard against UVA and UVB rays. (Look for ingredients like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone for UVA protection.) And be sure to use enough — you’ll need a squirt the size of a quarter for your face and neck, and about a shot glass worth for your entire body. If you’re going in and out of the water, make sure to reapply.
3. Getting a base tan can prevent skin cancer
Super false! Tanning beds use UVA rays that penetrate deeper into the skin. While they might give you a tan, they’re also damaging your DNA and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a safe tan, and a burn is outright bad news — just five burns can increase your risk of skin cancer by 80 percent, according to data from the long-term Nurses Health Study.
Tips: Your best hope for preventing skin cancer is to avoid most UV exposure. Stay in the shade, cover up, use a hat and sunglasses, and slap on plenty of good sunscreen. For more ways to stay safe in the sun, see these tips.
4. Potato salad will give you food poisoning
True-ish. It might, but it’s not the worst offender. It’s true that the mayonnaise and eggs in potato, pasta, and other picnic salads can be breeding grounds for Salmonella bacteria — but another type (Campylobacter) causes the most cases of food poisoning in the US. And where is it found? Mainly in raw or undercooked poultry and unpasteurized milk. Even one drop of juice from infected raw chicken is enough to cause an infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Tips: Use separate dishes and cutting boards for raw meat. After prep, wash your hands and anything that touched raw meat with soap and hot water. Keep perishable foods in an ice chest, and take out the potato salad and meat for grilling last. Food safety guidelines say to cook chicken until it’s 165 F inside (use a meat thermometer). Don’t leave anything with meat, eggs, or dairy out longer than two hours (one hour on hot days) and pack them up first when the picnic is over.
5. Chlorine in pool water protects you from germs
Somewhat true. Did you know that each summer people get sick from swimming in pools, water parks, and hot tubs? Germs can spread through contaminated water, and the most common symptom is diarrhea. “Swimmers share the water — and the germs in it — with every person who enters the pool,” says the CDC. Disinfectants like chlorine kill most germs in less than an hour, but some can survive for days.
Tips: Stay out of the pool if you aren’t feeling well, especially if you have an upset stomach. It’s always a good idea to shower before and after taking a dip. Most important, don’t swallow any pool water.
6. It’s fine to pee in a pool
Gross, and so not true! Raise your hand if you know someone who regularly pees in a pool. It’s no big deal, they say, because urine is quickly diluted by thousands of gallons of pool water. Actually, researchers have recently found that urine interacts with chlorine to produce an irritant that makes eyes turn red, noses run, and lungs cough.
Tips: Encourage everyone to take regular bathroom breaks. Follow the guideline of “every hour — everyone out!” It’s really that simple. And don’t believe the hype that some pools use a chemical that turns red or green to signal when someone does pee — that’s another common myth.
7. You need to wait a half hour after eating to swim
False, thankfully. As a kid, you remember sitting poolside after lunch for the longest half hour of your life. Mom insisted: Jump in too soon, you’ll get muscle cramps and drown. It’s true that after a meal your body diverts blood from your muscles to your stomach to help with digestion, but this shouldn’t affect your ability to stay afloat. A review by a Red Cross scientific advisory committee found no evidence to support any link between eating before swimming and drowning. If you ever do feel bloated or crampy while swimming, just get out of the pool and rest.
Tips: While there aren’t any rules about waiting to swim after eating, you definitely shouldn’t eat or chew gum while swimming because there’s a risk of choking. There is also a strong link between drinking and drowning — up to 70 percent of teen and adult deaths around water involve alcohol. It’s best to avoid booze when you'll be boating or swimming, especially in the sun and heat, as they can intensify alcohol’s effect on your body. And drink plenty of water even if you’re not drinking the hard stuff.