Written by Shaun Swartz
We’ve all been there – standing in front of the bathroom mirror, skin radiating heat with that unmistakable tomato-tint.
Hit with the sudden, searing realization that we probably shouldn’t have spent quite so much time frolicking unprotected in the sun, we wonder where it all went wrong. And while at the surface level it’s easy to laugh off sunburn, overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays due to improper sun protection can actually cause more damage than meets the eye.
So in anticipation of our summer departure, we thought it best to share a few quick facts and helpful tips on how to choose sunscreen to keep all you future sailors and divers out there from turning into crispy red lobsters during your journey.
Reality check: You’re not wearing enough sunscreen.
There is absolutely no truth to the phrase, “I just need one good burn and I’m good for the rest of the summer.” Skin damage caused by long-term sun exposure is cumulative, and dermatologists agree: “episodes of severe sunburn, usually before age 18, can raise the risk of developing melanoma.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the average person applies only 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. The recommended amount of sunscreen for proper sun protection might actually surprise you: “Apply enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, or roughly 1 ounce of sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors.” The operative word, of course, being “before.” Early application allows sunscreen to properly soak in and protect you from weeks of painful, peeling skin. Oh, and the phrase “one-and-done” does not apply here. You should be reapplying approximately every two hours, or every time you get out of the water. So don’t forget those lips and the tops of your ears, mateys.
Truth Bomb: Not all sunscreens are created equal.
Learn how to choose sunscreen that will provide proper sun protection. Be sure to find a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA (i.e. “Aging rays) and UVB (i.e.” Burning rays”). Both types of UV rays can be harmful to your skin, and your sunscreen should protect you from both.
Is there a better option?
The bare-skinned truth? Keep the sun off of your skin by covering up. There’s a reason that all of the staff members onboard your boat are wearing long sleeved shirts, hats, sunglasses, and even face protection throughout the day: Momentary bronze glory isn’t worth the long-term risk of skin cancer. We love photosynthesizing just as much as the next sailor, but extended sun exposure is a very serious threat to your health.
So before we get down off of our sunscreen-soapbox, consider a few final thoughts and facts about proper sun protection, and while you’re at it – go put on some sunscreen while you finish reading:
* 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18, so grab a sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater.
* Consider buying sunscreens that are environmentally friendly. An increasing amount of scientific research has shown that standard sunscreens with oxybenzone, a commonly found organic compound found in many sunscreens, actually inhibit the growth of coral. Turns out that sunscreen pollution is a major contributor to the decline of coral populations. Without coral reefs, we lose the portion of the ocean responsible for housing up to 25% of all marine life.
* “Waterproof” sunscreen maintains its SPF level for up to 90 minutes after water exposure, whereas “water-resistant” sunscreen may maintain its SPF level for up to 40 minutes after water exposure.
* Avoid the sun from 10am-4pm (the sun’s rays are strongest at this time) – slap on that sunscreen but also cover up during peak sun exposure hours to achieve proper sun protection.
* Glare/reflection from the water increases UV radiation exposure and is a huge strain on your eyes, so consider investing in a good pair of polarized sunglasses for your voyage. Polarized sunglasses reduce glare and subsequent eyestrain. After all, you only get one pair of eyes to protect.
Shaun’s passion for adventure and exploration was sparked at a young age through frequent camping trips in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and surfing trips in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Through a variety of jobs in the realms of education, marine science, and adventure guiding, Shaun has sought to broaden not only his own horizons but also the horizons of his students through immersive and experiential education. Currently, Shaun aims to inspire environmental awareness, conservation, and stewardship in the marine ecosystem by combining his interests in photography, journalism, and media.