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Sunburn and sun protection

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Revision as of 13:45, 26 January 2011 by Mattravel (talk | contribs) (Protection)
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Sunburn and sun protection

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    This article is a travel topic

Sunburn is a symptom of a damaged skin produced by overexposure to the sun's harmful UV-rays, and is a danger of traveling in sunny climates. Getting badly sunburnt on the first day of sun and sand holiday can ruin the rest of your trip.


Typically there is initial redness (erythema), followed by varying degrees of pain, both proportional in severity to the duration and intensity of exposure. After being burned, the skin may turn red 2 to 6 hours later. Pain is worst 6 to 48 hours afterward. The burn continues to develop for 24 to 72 hours after exposure. Skin peeling begins 3 to 8 days after the burn occurs. Common outcomes include tenderness, pain, edema, red and/or peeling skin, rash, nausea and fever. Sunburns may be first- or second-degree burns.

Minor sunburns typically cause nothing more than slight redness and tenderness to the affected area. In more serious cases blistering can occur. Extreme sunburns can be painful to the point of debilitation and may require hospital care.

Be careful

When travelling you should take more care to sun protection, because you usually spend more time outdoors. Never underestimate the power of the sun in southern regions, in the mountains or even on an ordinary summer day at noon.

Before you leave, try to get information on the weather conditions of the region you're traveling to, especially related to sunshine and sunpower.

THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Make sure you don't forget to slap the sunscreen on the kids, reapply regularly, pop a hat on their heads and make sure they're well covered up while building sandcastles. Children's skin is far more sensitive to the sun's harmful UV rays than adult skin and deserves a bit of extra TLC.

Increased risks

Your susceptibility to sunburns is strongly dependent on your skin tone. People with red hair, green eyes and freckled skin are under the highest risk of contracting skin damage.

The risk of sunburn increases when you come closer to the earth's equator. It can also be increased by the intake of pharmaceutical products. Certain antibiotics, contraceptives, tranquillizers, and malaria prophylaxis provoke over-sensitivity to sunshine. Leaving the juice of lemons or other citrus fruit on your skin will increase the rapidity and intensity of a burn.

In recent years, the incidence and severity of sunburn has increased worldwide, especially in the southern hemisphere, because of damage to the ozone layer due to CFCs. Some are worried that ozone depletion and the seasonal ozone hole has led to dangerously high levels of UV radiation.


The UV-index is an international standard giving information about the intensity of the sun rays. Consequently it gives an indication of the risks that these rays can provoke. The higher the value of the index, the higher the risk for sunburn.

More and more weather stations and local newspapers include a prediction of the uv values for the days to come in their forecast. However, be prepared that you will not find this information if you travel to less developed countries. It's wise to get the latest information just before you leave. There are a lot of websites where you can get UV-index predictions from all over the world.

The intensity of UV radiation is affected by the following factors:

  • Latitude - strongest near the equator (in the tropics)
  • Altitude - UV radiation increases rapidly with altitude.
  • Season - strongest in summer,
  • Weather - strongest on clear, dry days
  • Surroundings - sand, water and snow intensifies UV radiation, and the reflected UV circumvents protection such as hats.

BEWARE THE GLARE. Sunlight reflects off the water, snow and sand. This glare reflects up to 12 times as much light intensity as normal UV rays. If you go anywhere near these surfaces make sure you're wearing sun block, UV-protective sunglasses and covering up!


Protecting yourself is the best you can do. Here is some advice that could help you.

MISTRUST CLOUDS. Just because it's cloudy, does't mean the sun can't reach you. Cloud cover does reduce the risk of getting burnt, but only by a fraction and UV rays can happily penetrate cloud cover. Never treat a cloudy day as an opportunity to give sun block a miss!


DRESS YOUR EYES. A pair of decent sunnies will block out the sun's UV rays, which can cause cataracts, pterygiums and muscular degeneration, particularly in older people. Not only will sunglasses protect you from ultra violet radiation, they improve vision in bright conditions and block out the glare - perfect if you're driving or induldging in a bit of watersport fun.

Sunglasses are a must in bright sunlight, and especially in areas where the surroundings reflect sunlight, such as beaches, glaciers, and deserts.

Warning: wearing sunglasses with no UV protection causes more damage to your eyes than wearing no sunglasses at all, so make sure your sunglasses are from a reputable, UV-certified brand.

Also make sure your sunglasses leave no gaps in the field of vision: If you gaze downward and can see past the sunglasses, your eyes will still be exposed to some UV radiation. In environments with high UV intensity, such as high altitudes, use ski goggles rather than sunglasses.

Though counter intuitive, clear or light tinted sunglasses offer better protection than dark tinted ones, since a) your natural aversion to sunlight is preserved, and b) your pupils remain constricted, letting less light into your eyes.


Clothing is by far the most effective defense against the sun, but not all clothing is UV resistant, and you can get burnt even while wearing some clothing.

When travelling in a tropical environment, wear a large hat or headscarf, a white or beige long sleeved shirt made of thick cotton, and a pair of long trousers. Avoid wearing shorts and T-shirts; use long-sleeved baggy clothing instead, which will keep you just as cool while avoiding sunburn. The back of your neck is especially prone to sunburn, so get a shirt with a collar and wear the collar upwards (or wear a cotton scarf). Wear shoes and socks when possible.

On the beach, don't take your clothing off except when swimming. Consider taking a sunshirt, and other clothing you can wear in the water. If you feel that staying fully clothed defies the whole point of beaches, wrap yourself in a thick sarong while dressed in a swimming costume only.

Sun Lotion

Applying sun lotions is better than nothing, but bear in mind that even the highest factor sunlotions only provide partial UV-protection, and none are suitable for prolongued (2 hours+) exposure to strong sunlight. Sun lotions should only be used as a last resort where clothing isn't possible or practicable, eg. on the back of your hands, or while you are in the water. To work effectively, they need to be reapplied at least every 2 hours. DRESS TO PROTECT. Wearing the right clothing in the sun can keep you cool and burn free. If you're sightseeing under the sun, stick to light cotton or linen shirts, shorts and a wide brim hat. Light clothing that covers your neck and shoulders will also save sensitive areas from getting burned. The look may not be the height of fashion, but you'll look even less fashionable with blisters and flakey skin


Don't venture outdoors during the hours of noon, if you're travelling in a tropical climate. Plan outdoor activities such as swimming in the early morning or late afternoon.

The days of rubbing baby oil on your body and basking for hours may be gone, but you can still enjoy a little sensible time in the sun.


When seriously burned, try to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Diving into open water to cool off won't help with the burn, and your skin will continue to get damage. Beware of infection if your skin is blistering. Take a cool shower (not cold) or a bath. Avoid scrubbing and shaving, use soft towels to dry yourself.

Get a commercially prepared sunburn cream or Aloe Vera to relieve the immediate symptoms.

TAKE A BREAK.Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, sunburn strikes. If it happens to you, be strict and stay out of the sun altogether until your skin recovers. Tanning over burnt skin is a one way ticket to blisters, sores and wrinkles

Heat stroke

Sunstroke or heat prostration is a serious life-threatening condition which occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature; body heat rises and the victim becomes extremely ill.

High temperature is a major factor in this, of course. Humidity is also very important; when the humidity is high, water evaporates more slowly and the body's normal method of cooling itself by sweating is much less effective. Dehydration can contribute to the problem by making you sweat less; DRINK DRINK DRINK. If you've been couped up in an office for months, your body won't be used to hot weather. Remember to pack water and juice on days when you'll be out in the sun - whether you're on a hike or tanning. Your body needs fluids to cool itself down. If you don't sweat enough, your body temperature will rocket and this can quickly lead to dehydration or heat stroke. Both conditions are serious if left untreated and can mean the end of a fun holiday in the sun.

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