Don’t Die for a Tan on Vacation

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

Exposing fair skin to the sun, especially if you don’t normally live in a sunny climate, is one of the most dangerous things many people do on vacation.  How many happy holidaymakers hit the beach on day one wearing the new swimsuit and maybe a little bit of suntan lotion?  They are not so happy a few hours later when they are in pain from what can be third degree burns in the extreme case.  What’s worse they may be also increasing their risk of deadly skin cancer.

Skin Cancer: Some People are More at Risk

In Australia’s  summer the UV index is often over 10 from 9:00am to after 5pm. The burn time is less than 10 minutes.  So what’s the big deal you say – I get a little burnt so what? Well skin cancer is a big deal and melanoma kills.  There is an awful lot of nonsense written about what will give you cancer: everything from plastics to food have been accused of  being carcinogens – but one of the absolutely proven carcinogens is UV radiation.  Melanoma rates are currently rocketing among people in their 20’s, it doesn’t even take a lifetime of exposure to the harsh sun.  Those most at risk are of course the fair skinned person exposed to a lot of UV rays. Regardless of whether your UV exposure is at the beach or in a so-called safe tanning booth: the result is the same.  Skin damage at best, risk of increased skin cancer at worst.

Let’s face it a nasty case of sun burn can put you in hospital, third degree burns are crippling, painful and disfiguring regardless of the source of the heat. You wouldn’t deliberately burn yourself on a stove – why would you do it at the beach?

Sun damage will also age your skin faster than almost anything else other than smoking! Don’t waste your money on skin care and then go and get a suntan. The reason that the Australian’s think that the Irish and Scottish have lovely complexions is quite simple – the fair skinned Celts who haven’t migrated from their homelands have very little sun damage to their skins! Their pale-skinned who moved to Australia may now look a decade older purely because of skin damage; cosmetics which hide the tell-tale red veins on damaged faces sell well in Austraila.

Who is most at Risk of Sun Damage

The people most at risk are those of us with less pigment in their skin: i.e those with blond or red hair, light-coloured eyes, the typical Celt from Scotland or Ireland  who burn quickly are most at risk. Although even those of black or brown complexions can still burn: it just takes a little longer

Every time you burn you damage your skin and increase your risk of developing skin cancer.  Children and teenagers are particularly at risk. Parents who let their kids play on the beach with next to no clothes on are irresponsible.  Remember a suntan is just a symptom that your skin is damaged.  There is no such thing as a safe tan.  The only safe tan comes out of a bottle.  Fake tan may make you look good but it offer no actual protection from UV rays: you will still need to cover up or where sunscreen lotion.

Where you are most at Risk of Sun Burn:

  • Countries that are under the ozone hole: Australia, New Zealand, Chile, southern Argentina. The ozone is the natural protection layer of the atmosphere which cuts down harmful UV rays so in the southern hemisphere you are more at risk particularly if there is less pollution in the atmosphere which also cuts down UV transmission.
  • At the beach, especially a white sand beach where the sand will reflect the sun and effectively burn you twice.
  • On the sea in a boat or on the snow – again the sea/snow reflects the UV and you where you don’t expect to be burnt. Skiing is particularly bad if you are at high altitude as well.   

Avoiding Sun Damage on your Vacation

  • Stay out of the direct sun.  As Noel Coward famously sang: “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”.  However in hotter parts of the world the midday sun extends from 10am to 4pm!
  • Cover up: The Arabs wear loose cotton clothes not just to protect themselves – covering up actually keeps you cooler in a dry climate – you don’t dehydrate as much.  Where a wide-brimmed hat – not just a baseball cap.  Wear good quality sunglasses with large lenses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them.  Don’t spend hours in the water diving covered up with a wet suit only to get your head burnt: through your hair!
  • Wear 30+ Suntan Lotion.  Anything less that 30+ is a waste of time and according to the experts anything more than 30+ is a waste of money – you sweat and wear it off at the same rate as the cheaper and lower rated lotions .