It’s hard to deny the pleasures of basking in the warm glow of tropical sunshine and shimmering blue waters … until you find yourself beet red and nursing a sunburn.
A sunburn is exactly as it sounds — burning of the skin from exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, which causes redness and inflammation within hours of exposure. Most burns are 1st degree, red, painful, and tender to the touch. But too much exposure can lead to more severe burns that cause blistering and may even require medical care.
Even if you’re not typically prone to getting burned, don’t underestimate the intensity of the sun’s rays, especially in the tropics, where the angle of the sun amplifies the UV index (an international standard measurement of the strength of the ultraviolet radiation from the sun at a particular place on a particular day). As always, prevention is the best medicine:
Wear sunscreen: Sunscreen is your best bet for protecting against burns. However, there’s been concern in recent years that sunscreen runoff is bleaching and otherwise damaging coral reefs — a great concern when you consider that an estimated 5,000 metric tons of sunblock washes off swimmer’s body’s each year. Some experts recommend sticking to sunscreen that contains physical sunblocks like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide rather than chemical ones (oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor are the biggest offenders). You also can buy reef-safe sunscreens like Badger Sport.
Apply it 10 to 15 minutes before going in the water, so it can absorb into your skin.
Use a lot. Studies show most people apply less than half the amount they need for full-body protection. Cover yourself completely. And reply often.
Check the index: Most weather apps will list the UV Index, which ranges from 0 (low danger) to 11+ (extreme risk). Any reading 3 (moderate risk) or higher requires precautions not to get burned.
Cover up & seek shade: The sun’s rays are strongest from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you’re going to be out all day, take extra protection in the form of a wide-brimmed hat, a light coverup, and/or an umbrella. Take a break from basking directly in the bright sun them and find some shade. Remember, too, that sand and water reflect the UV radiation into shaded areas, so while you’re somewhat protected under hats and umbrellas and overhangs, you’ll still need some sunscreen.
If it's too late, treat it by: "Apply aloe vera gel and take ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation and pain," says avid diver Lewis Kohl, M.D., chairman of emergency medicine at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can also apply cool, wet compresses of equal parts milk and water to soothe hot, sensitive skin. Drink plenty of water. If the burn is bad, don't dive.
Selene Yeager is health and fitness expert and writes regularly about training, fitness, nutrition and health.