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Caribbean Sun… Not For The Fair Of Skin

October 26, 2012

We’re huge believers in sunscreen here at Just BEach, and not just because we sell it.

The sun here in the Caribbean is characterized by some of the strongest UV radiation in the world, along with other tropical areas.  Because we’re so close to the equator, the sun’s rays hit the earth more directly than they would further north (or south for the southern tropics) and are therefore less effectively absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere.  On top of that, if you’re visiting us in the winter, you’re probably used to the weaker rays further up in the northern hemisphere, and the shorter days.  Hop off a plane in our sunny climes and you’re in for a serious dose of long, sun-drenched days.

Exactly the point, you’re saying.

Current studies show that this type of intense, irregular sun exposure creates a higher risk of melanoma than your average sun exposure (don’t take our word for it, take this guy’s word for it – Dr Nick Sadick – he’s way smarter about this stuff than we are, read his article), because your skin is sort of caught off guard, unused to this intense sunshine, and therefore you’re more at risk for the severe, blistering burns that drastically raise melanoma risk.  Think about it: you get on a plane in January in, say, Boston, wearing a coat, pants, maybe a hat… and get off the plane in St Thomas where you strip down to shorts and a t-shirt or a swimsuit as quickly as possible.  Even with sunscreen, your skin is saying, “what the heck?”.  Then you have a couple cocktails, take a well deserved nap on the beach… We all know the next chapter of this sad story: Day One Vacation Sunburn.

We would like to spare you this experience, so here are a few tips.

WEAR SUNSCREEN – Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  That’s because this is seriously excellent, if commonplace, advice.  It may seem self evident however, when you’re purchasing & using sunscreen, here are a few important points:

  • Wear SPF 15 or higher. Anything lower than that really isn’t going to protect your skin much, especially if you’re fair, from our harsh rays
  • The FDA is in the process of changing labeling regulations for sunscreen.  The highest allowable “strength” will be 50+, because anything high than that shows a negligible increase in protection.  So long, SPF 100.
  • The FDA will also regulate the use of the “Broad Spectrum” label on sunscreen, to refer to sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage, not just sunburn.  Broad spectrum sunscreens will protect against both UVA and UVB rays – Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB, while both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.
  • For more information, check out the FDA’s Consumer Update here.
  • REAPPLY.  REAPPLY.  REAPPLY.  Can’t stress this enough.  Even if your sunscreen is “waterproof” or “water resistant”… Reapply every 60-90 minutes depending on activity level.

Sun protective clothing has been around for a while, but every year (thank goodness) it gets less and less unattractive.  At Just BEach we have awesome UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) shirt options for adults from Hook & Tackle and Under Armour, as well as UPF protective hats for adults from Ahead and for kids from Speedo.  We also carry UPF protective rashguards for adults and children from several different brands.

Other available options on the market include SPF protective pants, and companies like Columbia, Patagonia & surf brands like O’Neill or Billabong often have great alternatives.  Always look for hats & clothing with a UPF factor of at least 30+.

The other sensible thing to do while down here on vacation is seek out shade as much as possible during the peak sun hours – 10 am to 2 pm are the worst.  Luckily a lot of our beaches have shade options, or it’s a lovely excuse to venture into town and find a cool little place to have lunch!

Damage Control

If the worst happens, and none of the above help you avoid a killer sunburn (or, knowing better than we do, you chose to ignore our wisdom, accrued over many years at the expense of our own skin), here’s what to do:

Step 1: Get out of the sun ASAP.

Step 2: Go back to your place, fill up a bowl with ice cubes and cold water, and soak a washcloth in it.  Apply the washcloth as a compress onto your burn, leaving it on until the cloth is no longer cool to the touch.  Resoak, reapply.  Cycle 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off until your skin is no long warm to the touch.  This will help prevent the burn from worsening after you’ve come out of the sun… your skin will actually continue to burn for hours (depending on the severity of the initial burn) , unless you cool it down.

Step 3: We recommend happy hour.  In the shade.

Step 4: Make sure to keep your skin well moisturized as it heals – this will minimize peeling, and itchiness.

Step 5: In the future, reapply more effectively.

Well, that’s it… that’s all we’ve got in the “Avoiding Sunburn” folder.  Hopefully our tips will help a few people avoid discomfort this snowbird season, and in summers to come.  Anyone have any tips that we missed, either preemptive or reparative?  Please share with us in the comments section!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2012 10:26 am

    Hi, found this article from your twitter profile. Really interesting. Hope you plan a second part where will talk about the influence of the sun on melanocyte and dangerous nevus i.e. common skin moles. It will be really useful. BR

    • October 28, 2012 10:08 am

      Sounds like that might be a little out of our depth, but we’ll look into it. Thanks!

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