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updated: 3/26/2014 7:44 PM

Protect yourself in the great outdoors

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It took quite a long time but I finally woke up and "smelled the coffee," as my late parents would frequently say while lecturing me.

You see, I always believed I was immune from normal life's so called "derailments," so it took me decades to learn the lessons intended to protect me through the years.

I was a little boy in 1951 when I wound up in bed after a long day of bridge fishing in the Florida Keys.

The fishing itself didn't hurt me. In fact, it was one of those spectacular days when everything was going right. The major negative was Mother Nature reaching out to literally touch me.

I was having the time of my life with my Uncle Lou when we caught and kept a lot of edible fish. My uncle was a super whiz in the kitchen, especially with fresh red snapper and pompano filets.

But by the time I got into the back seat of his car for the long drive back to Coral Gables (Florida), I realized the skin on my arms and legs felt as if they were on fire.

My uncle didn't have air conditioning in his vehicle, so I sat there writhing in pain. Maybe if he had AC, the cooler air would have helped lessen the excruciating pain.

When we returned my mother and aunt saw how I looked after a day in the sun without any sunscreen. They went to work applying some kind of soothing cream to my face, arms and legs.

I never forgot that experience, and yet years later I repeated my foolhardy behavior by once again frying my skin during a fishing outing.

For those of you who have seen me in person know I am a fair-skinned chap. I do not have any freckles on my face and arms from exposure to the sun, nor have I been diagnosed with skin cancer.

It was about 30 years ago I made up my mind to take better care of my skin and myself. So I began using a high-number SPF rating sunscreen. Of course I couldn't find anything higher than No. 30 SPF, so I figured that was more than enough for me.

I really dodged a bullet, so to speak, through those years because for guys like me with very light complexions and hair to match we have to be very careful.

I believe darker-skinned guys like Spence Petros hardly ever uses sunscreen. I've encountered others like him who had chosen not to protect their skin. Some of them claim they are not susceptible to the sun's rays.

I enjoy wading the sand flats of the Florida Keys searching for tailing bonefish and permit. I have been wearing a rather large floppy, brim hat that covers my entire head and neck. I also wear long sleeve, ultralight shirts that have their own SPF rating.

The only exposed skin belongs to my hands, and that's where I'll use a fresh bottle of No. 50 SPF.

You'll frequently see television fly fishermen wearing gloves while searching for fish on subtropical and tropical, shallow expeditions.

Even though light gloves are close to the ultimate protection from sunburn and harmful UV exposure I personally find them to be an uncomfortable accessory.

In the 1950s, we didn't have the variety of bottled or tubed SPF protection levels. But today you have a choice of several dozen brands that promise protection while outdoors.

I recently saw a physician specializing in treating skin ailments. I simply wanted a checkup while also needing some questions answered.

I asked the doctor if she believed a lower-rated sunscreen, like No. 30 SPF, was good enough to use this year.

"I would most certainly recommend the high rating for longer protection," she said, "but keep in mind if you're outside and if you're wearing short sleeve clothing, you will have to continue to reapply the lotion every hour or less.

"People need to understand the chance of developing skin cancer is greater than ever because many people now go for regular checkups."

The sun season is just about here. Try using good judgment this year.

• Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and podcast at

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