A lifeguard wearing sunglasses stands in the shade.

Sun Protection Tips for Lifeguards

My very first job was as a professional lifeguard at the local pool and I loved it. It was a great way to make some money over the summer while also getting to enjoy the beautiful weather. Being paid to sit outside all day is certainly nice, but also has its downsides. Especially when it comes to UV exposure.

I wasn't super careful

Back when I was a lifeguard, I was young and dumb. Keeping my skin protected from the sun certainly wasn’t high on my list of priorities, but it definitely should have been! I often used sunscreen while on the job, but definitely not as regularly as I should have.

Sun damage is cumulative

This is likely one of the many contributing factors that led to my eventual melanoma diagnosis in 2019. As I found out much later in life, damage from UV exposure is cumulative. Every burn when you are younger increases your odds of getting skin cancer when you are older. So while I was quick to forget about my latest sunburn, my skin wasn’t.

Looking back, staying properly protected while being a lifeguard is actually fairly easy. It just requires a little bit of attention. Here are some tips:

Use sunscreen

This is a simple recommendation and one you’ve probably heard many times. But, I’ll say it again - USE SUNSCREEN! I can’t stress this enough. Even if you are in the shade, UV rays can reflect off the water’s surface and continue to damage your skin. Find a sunscreen you like, and keep a lot of it on hand! The two most important things to look for in sunscreen are:

  • That it offers SPF 30 or greater broad-spectrum protection. This will make sure you are properly protected from all forms of UV radiation
  • Water-resistant up to 80 minutes (maximum rating). You never know when you’ll have to jump in the water, so it’s best to make sure it can hold up through a quick swim.

Set alarms

Sunscreen is only effective for a maximum of two hours, so set alarms accordingly. Sunscreen's effectiveness is even shorter if you go swimming or sweat a lot. Every time you apply sunscreen, set an alarm for 1.5 – 2 hours later so you’ll know when to reapply. If you end up going for a swim, just reapply the sunscreen immediately after you dry off and set a new alarm. Don’t wait until your skin starts to burn to remember to reapply. At that point, it’s already too late.

Seek shade

If you’ll be sitting in the same spot for a long period of time, as is the case for most lifeguards, make sure it’s in the shade. If it’s not already in the shade, a big umbrella is the best way to create your own shade. Most pools have umbrellas attached to the lifeguard stand, so it might be as easy as just opening it up. If yours doesn’t already have an umbrella, I’m sure you can find another umbrella nearby that you can drag over to your area. Staying out of direct sunlight is one of the best and easiest ways to limit your exposure.

Wear a hat and sunglasses

A hat does more than just protect your head, but also your face, ears, nose, and neck. The wider the brim the better. Find one you like, and wear it often. The same goes with a quality pair of sunglasses. The UV radiation from the sun can damage your eyes as easily as your skin. Find a pair of shades that offer 100% UV protection and wear them all the time. You can even leave both of these items somewhere in your office to make sure you’ll always have them whenever you’re on the job.

For a lot of the country, we're leaving summer behind, but it's never too early to start thinking about how to protect yourself come lifeguard season. And for the rest of us: remember to protect yourself all year long!

Any other tips for lifeguards to be sun-safe on the job?

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