Sunscreen Tips: Protecting Your Skin on Travel
As a clinical pharmacist, I learned so much about sun protection and saw firsthand how harmful to one’s health unprotected sun exposure can be. I am always sharing tips with my family and friends about the importance and benefits of wearing sunscreen.
Despite the fact that unprotected, chronic sun exposure is most associated with the development of certain types of skin cancers and premature aging, I have found during my travels there are a large number of people that still choose to spend hours in the sun without applying sunscreen.
Sunscreen is an essential preventative/proactive healthcare habit that should be practiced throughout the year, including winter months and foggy and cloudy days. Snow can reflect Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and the higher the altitude, the higher the UV exposure, thus increasing your risk of exposure to sun damage.
Travel tip: If you are traveling to remote islands or “touristy” destinations like the San Blas Islands or Galapagos Islands where sunscreen can be hard to find or extremely expensive, make sure to purchase your sunscreen PRIOR to your travels. We saw bottles of sunscreen in the Galapagos Islands for $30 USD/ bottle. We used Banana Boat 50+, Sport Performance Sunscreen which worked great for us being in and out of the water snorkeling and swimming all day in the hot Panamanian and Ecuadorian sun.
I have provided general facts about sunscreen, information to help guide you on how to choose and apply the correct sunscreen and reasons why you should wear sunscreen year round.
“Broad spectrum” protection
When choosing a sunscreen make sure to select a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection. Sunscreens with this label protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the longer UV rays that contribute to premature aging and skin cancers. UVB rays are the shorter UV rays that cause sunburn in addition to skin cancers (all sunscreen products protect against UVB rays).
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
According to the American Cancer Society, when choosing a sunscreen, make sure you select a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher (sunscreens below SPF 15 will only protect against sunburn, not skin cancers or skin aging). The SPF number indicates the level of “protection” the sunscreen will provide against the UVB rays (UV rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer). Although higher SPF numbers do offer more protection against UVB rays, the difference is minimal.
According to the American Cancer Society, SPF 15 Sunscreens filer out 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens filter out 98%, and SPF 100 sunscreens filter out 99%. There is no sunscreen available on the market that will filter out 100% UVB rays.
When applying sunscreen, apply 30 minutes BEFORE going outside in the sun. This will allow the skin time to absorb the sunscreen. At least one fluid ounce (2 tablespoons) is needed on an average, adult body.
Sunscreen should be reapplied AT LEAST every two hours when outdoors and immediately after swimming or heavy sweating (running, sports activities, etc.). Sunscreen is degraded over time by the sun and is easily rubbed off by water, sweat, and beach towels.
There are no sunscreens that are “waterproof” or “sweatproof.” Sunscreen manufacturers must label their products to specify how long their product lasts while swimming or sweating so you will know when to reapply. To be safe, reapply sunscreen more often during swimming or sweating and at least every 2 hours when outdoors.
Should everyone use sunscreen?
The answer is yes. Although people with darker complexions are not as high-risk in developing skin cancers as those with lighter complexions, everyone has some risk of developing skin cancer.
Using multiple products with SPF
As a pharmacist, I get asked how to apply multiple skin products all of the time. A common question I get is how to use sunscreen with topical medications (acne medications, topical steroids, topical antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, etc.). Topical medications should be applied first, directly to the skin; then sunscreen can be applied.
I also get asked if wearing a daily moisturizer or makeup that contains SPF by itself is enough sun protection. As mentioned above, according to the American Cancer Society, make sure you select a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher. If your makeup or daily moisturizer contains SPF 30 or higher, then the answer is yes.
If not, it is essential to use a separate sunscreen in addition to your regular moisturizer or makeup. If this is the case, apply the daily moisturizer first, then sunscreen and makeup (if applicable). Note: Topical medications should always be applied first and the same layering process as mentioned above repeated.
Medications and sunscreen
Photosensitivity (sun sensitivity) is inflammation of the skin caused by the exposure to sunlight and certain medications. Phototoxicity can result when a person uses a photosensitizing product (usually a medication) and is then exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun. The result is a severe sunburn that can occur within minutes to hours after sun exposure. A phototoxic reaction typically clears up once the drug is discontinued and is cleared from the body, even after re-exposure to sunlight.
Photoallergic reactions occur when the UV exposure changes the chemical structure of the drug (mostly topical drugs) causing the body’s immune system to see the drug as a “foreign invader” (antigen). The body’s immune system initiates an allergic response causing inflammation to sun-exposed areas of the skin. The rash resembles eczema, can occur 1-3 days after ingesting the medication, is long-lasting, can spread, and may recur even after the drug is discontinued and cleared from the body.
Prevention is the best way to handle photosensitivity; wearing sunscreen is a must. Visit Skin Cancer Foundation Photosensitivity Report to access a list of commonly used photosensitive medications.
Please also review my other medical blog posts to find out more about Perscriptions while Traveling, Travel Insurance, and Vaccinations while Traveling. These tips will help you to stay safe while traveling the world.
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