Packing your Suitcase

By: Kathy Steinemann

Are you planning a holiday in the tropics? Do you prefer ski vacations? Maybe you are a whitewater rafting enthusiast? No matter what your passion, there is one indispensable item you *must* remember to pack: sunscreen!

The ozone layer is allowing more and more skin-damaging sun radiation to reach the earth's surface nowadays. Sunburn, freckles, wrinkles, liver spots, and skin cancer can be blamed on the same thing that allows our planet to sustain any life at all - the sun.

A sunscreen by any other name is still the same thing: suntan lotion, tanning cream, sunblock, tanner's gel, sun oil, etc. All products are intended to offer some degree of protection from the sun. They have weak points and strong points.

  • Should you choose gel, spray, cream, stick, or lotion?

Part of the decision will be personal preference. If you have a sensitive nose, you may want to cover it with zinc ointment. It isn't attractive, but it will completely block the sun. If you have oily skin or acne, you may want to try an oil-free cream. Sprays are convenient - but be sure to choose an eco-friendly pump spray.

  • What is the difference between waterproof and water-resistant?

WaterPROOF sunscreen is intended to provide up to 80 minutes of protection in water. Water-RESISTANT products will give you up to 40 minutes. If you are playing beach volleyball or doing something that causes sweating, use the same guidelines for reapplication that you would use if you were swimming.

For maximum protection, reapply whenever you come out of the water.

  • How long before going out in the sun should you apply sunscreen?

Sun protection products do more than provide a physical barrier between the sun and your skin. The chemicals combine with your skin, and it takes up to 1 hour for maximum protection to develop. Apply your lotion at least 1/2 hour before going outside. A full hour is better. Know how long your protection will last, and reapply as needed as long as you are outdoors.

If you DO develop a sunburn, get out of the sun, apply sunscreen, and consume lots of liquids. The burn won't be quite as bad, and will heal more quickly.

  • What are UVA and UVB rays?

The sun produces two types of skin-damaging rays that survive in the earth's atmosphere: UVA and UVB. UVB is the root of most skin problems. However, UVA also causes damage, and is pervasive - even getting through the window glass of your car, hotel, or cruise-ship cabin. Both types of radiation are more plentiful in the tropics, during the summer, at altitude, and between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, clouds do not eliminate the hazard - and even in the winter, snow reflects the rays everywhere - including into your eyes.

  • What about SPF?

Sun protection factor (SPF) is an indication of how long you can safely stay in the sun without burning. If you normally burn in 15 minutes, and you wear sun lotion with an SPF of 10, multiply 15 times 10. You should be able to withstand 150 minutes of sun without burning. If your sunscreen has an SPF of 60, multiply 15 times 60. That will give you 900 minutes of sun protection. Of course, this is subject to variables such as your sunscreen being rubbed off by clothing or diluted by sweat. If you have experienced 10 minutes without protection, you are now left with a new formula: 5 minutes times SPF - minus the time you have already used up.

The bad news: there is currently no way to measure UVA protection.

  • Which works best - blocking or absorption?

Blocking is just what it sounds like: Harmful sun rays are blocked from your skin by a barrier. Absorption involves a chemical process that absorbs harmful rays. Broad-spectrum products will use both approaches. Check labels carefully. Is UVA protection included? Watch for ingredients like zinc oxide, avobenzoneArticle Search, and titanium dioxide. Lastly (and this is important) check the expiry date.

  • What about your eyes?

Don't forget to wear good-quality sunglasses or prescription photo-sensitive lenses whenever you travel outdoors. The same rays that damage your skin can also do irreparable damage to your eyes.

  • The great outdoors is still safe!

Protect your body - but don't turn into a hermit who is afraid to venture outside. Fresh air and nature are refreshing to the soul.

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