When planning a vacation, it’s easy to get carried away by thoughts of idyllic beaches, breathtaking hikes, or charming cityscapes. One thing that often gets overlooked is the intensity of the sun in our destination. As an essential component of our dream holiday, we must understand the potential dangers of sun exposure, particularly when vacationing in areas where the sun is much stronger than what we’re used to at home.
The excitement and novelty of being on vacation can distract us from the fact that we’re exposing ourselves to higher levels of UV radiation than our skin is accustomed to. This is particularly the case when we travel closer to the equator or at higher altitudes. The intensity of UV radiation increases by 10% to 12% for every 1000m increase in altitude. The strength of the sun also varies depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and the reflection properties of nearby surfaces such as water, sand, or snow.
Prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to sunburn in the short term, but the damage goes far deeper. Sunburn is an immediate sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much UV radiation. With every sunburn, the risk of skin cancer increases. The sun’s rays can also prematurely age our skin, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and a loss of elasticity.
While the sun’s rays are more potent in tropical climates, sun safety is crucial everywhere, even in cooler or cloudier destinations. Up to 80% of UV radiation can pass through clouds, meaning you can still get sunburnt on an overcast day.
One of the most effective ways to protect your skin from sun damage is to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen generously. It protects against both UVA (which can prematurely age your skin) and UVB (which can burn your skin) rays. Opt for SPF 30 or higher, and remember to reapply it every two hours and immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Sun-protective clothing can also play a vital role in shielding your skin from harmful rays. Look for clothing with a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Unlike regular clothing, UPF-rated clothing is designed to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Wearing wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses can provide further protection.
Seeking shade, particularly during the peak sun intensity hours (10 am to 4 pm), is another practical way to limit your sun exposure.
Staying hydrated is another key factor in sun safety. High temperatures can cause your body to lose water faster, leading to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water, even before you feel thirsty, can help counteract the effects of the hot sun.
Remember that a tan does not protect your skin from sun damage or skin cancer. The pigment, melanin, which our bodies produce to help protect the skin, is a sign of damage once it darkens.
As you plan your next vacation, be sun-aware. Keep in mind that your risk of sun exposure might be higher than at home and take appropriate precautions. That way, you can enjoy your holiday and return home with nothing but great memories.
Let’s bask in the beauty of our vacation spots while also caring for our skin. A safe vacation is always the best kind of vacation. Here’s to sun-safe travels!
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