As spring break rolls around again this year, parents, kids and college students head to sunny locations throughout the United States and the world. They should remember that everyone is at risk for a sunburn, whether your skin is light or dark. However, the lighter your skin color, the higher the risk of burning. Paying attention to sun safety will make for a pain-free vacation. There is nothing worse than missing out on the fun due to a bad sunburn.
Every week I see patients in middle age and older age groups that can recall the exact details of a sunburn they received decades ago. Why? It hurt like crazy! One never forgets that feeling. Sleeping under sheets seems to particularly hurt! Plus, seeing your skin blister is an alarming image. Subsequently, there is often a lifelong reminder of such a bad burn, sun freckles show up as the body’s response to a sun injury.
When people from cold or cloudy climates migrate to the sunny locations for spring break, they are often unprepared. They have no base tan since they have been covered up all winter, so almost any sun on unprotected fair skin is high risk for a burn.
A little planning goes a long way to prevent a painful sunburn. Here are my recommendations:
Avoid the sun whenever possible. Schedule fun in the sun early or late in the day, avoiding the powerful mid-day sun. Stand in the shade of a tree or bring your own shade umbrella / shade structure if you go to the beach. If the sun doesn’t hit you, it can’t get you!
Use physical blockers such as UPF50+ sun protective clothing, broad brimmed hats, gloves, gaiters and sun glasses. Uvida UV-protective clothing is comfortable in warm climates and blocks sun all day long. Physical blockers are always the best choice to cover as much skin as possible since they don’t sweat off or degrade throughout the day.
Use sunscreen for areas you cannot cover with clothes. Although 30- 50 SPF is adequate for everyday use, when spending extended time outside, especially in very sunny climates, I recommend using the highest SPF sunscreen that you will actually wear. I reach for the 100 SPF (several companies make this) to get the best protection. That way, if it sweats off, rubs off, or is put on too thinly, it will still provide reasonable coverage. Don’t forget to cover commonly missed spots like the tops of feet, ears and backs of hands. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours while outside and every more frequently if you are in the water.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to sun protection. Taking these steps will help avoid a major disruption in the spring break fun due to a painful sunburn that takes days to feel better. Start assembling your sun safety gear today. before you leave town. Resorts and vacation destinations usually don’t have the best sun protective gear and sunscreen available. What they do have in stock is usually quite expensive compared to what you’d pay at home.
Have fun and be safe in the sun this spring break!
Michael J. Huether, M.D.
Arizona Skin Cancer Surgery Center, P.C.