With the holiday season upon us, many people are hoping to escape the cold to a sunny shore far away. A winter getaway is a great time to relax and have fun, but it’s important to remember that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause severe skin damage, sunburn and ultimately contribute to the development of skin cancer.
“Melanoma, one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, is closely linked to intense, intermittent sun exposure — the kind people often receive during beach vacations,” says Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Sun protection is important every day, but those spending extended time outdoors in a tropical location need to be extra vigilant.”
The sun’s rays are also more intense the closer you get to the equator, so those traveling south to visit places like Hawaii, the Caribbean or Indonesia may encounter much stronger UV rays than they’re used to back home, leading to more rapid sun damage. Environmental factors like water and sand can also increase your likelihood of sun damage. These surfaces can reflect up to 80 percent of UV radiation, so the sun’s rays are hitting you twice.
Though it may be tempting to use indoor tanning devices prior to a tropical vacation, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a healthy tan — the ‘base tan’ is a myth, and any tan represents DNA damage to the skin. In fact, just one indoor tanning session before the age of 35 increases your melanoma risk by 75 percent. The Skin Cancer Recommends the following sun safety tips instead:
Cover up! Wearing more clothes may seem counterintuitive at the beach or pool, but sarongs, long sleeves and wraps will shade your skin and help keep you cool. Clothing is the first line of defense against the sun’s rays.
Accessorize: UV-blocking sunglasses will help protect your eyes and the surrounding skin from damage, while a broad-brimmed hat (with at least a three-inch brim all around) will help protect your scalp, neck, face and ears.
Seek shade: Take refuge from the sun under a leafy palm tree or a large beach umbrella and try to hit the hot spots early in the morning or late in the afternoon. By avoiding the sun at its most intense (between 10 AM and 4 PM) you’ll beat the crowds and save your skin!
Be Sunscreen Smart: A broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is a must for a beach vacation. Apply one ounce, or two tablespoons, every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.