Staying Safe in the Tropical Sun

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child-on-beach-in-tropical-sun
Image: © Nadya Eugene

Anyone who lives in the tropics is aware of how harsh the tropical sun can be throughout the day and especially during peak times. Most people do take the necessary measures to protect themselves against the relentless sunshine. Sometimes, however, we forget about skin protection as we go about our daily lives. With so much on our minds, it’s easy to let this one thing slip. After all, how bad can it really be, right? Wrong!

Numerous studies have proven beyond any doubt that while a little sun exposure is good for us (we absorb Vitamin D from the sun through our skin), too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays can be hazardous. From dehydration and sunstroke to sunburn and skin cancer – the dangers of excessive sun exposure are real.

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Fortunately, there are a few simple and easy things you can do to enjoy the sunshine while avoiding the risks.

Always Use Sunscreen Outdoors

Wearing sunscreen is the single most effective thing you can do to protect your sun from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. You should be using it every time you step outdoors. When using sunscreen, what’s important is to use it the right way.

Heed these sunscreen tips to get maximum protection against the sun:

Choose the right SPF for your type of skin. While a sunscreen with low SPF number offers sufficient protection for darker skins, you’ll need one a higher SPF number if you have fair skin.

woman-applying-sunscreen
Image: Armin Rimoldi

For maximum protection, apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before stepping out in the sun. This will give it sufficient time to soak into your skin, increasing its effectiveness.

On days that you’re heading out for a day on the beach, use a generous amount and apply it on every part of your body that’s likely to get exposed to the sun. You need a thick enough layer that will prevent the sun from penetrating through and reaching your skin. And reapply your sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours. If you are taking children to the beach, you’ll need to keep re-applying their sunscreen every time they come out of the water.

Make sure to apply sunscreen every single day before you step out, even on cloudy or hazy days. The clouds may block direct sunlight from beating down on you, but they are no match for UV rays. UV rays are capable of penetrating through the clouds and will cause sunburn even on a cloudy or hazy day.

Wear Protective Clothing

Wearing the right clothing offers your skin another layer of protection in addition to sunscreen. Think natural fabrics such as cotton and linen. These fabrics are breathable and super absorbent, which helps keep you cooler, drier, and more comfortable than synthetic fabrics.

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Image: Diah Ayu

With regards to style, go for loose, long-sleeved shirts or tops and full-length trousers or a long skirt. These minimize skin exposure to the sun and boost the protective properties of the sunscreen. This is one of the reasons why traditional clothing in most tropical countries tend to cover the whole body.

Another accessory that is both stylish and protective is a wide-brimmed hat. A wide-brimmed hat does more than just keep the sun off your head. It also protects your face, neck and ears and offers some amount of resistance against the direct glare of the sun’s rays.

Invest in a Good Pair of Sunglasses

Eye protection is crucial when you’re out and about in any tropical country. Excessive glare from the sun can damage your retina and cause other eye problems such as cataracts. Protection aside, they look cool too! A good pair of sunglasses will help you look chic while also keeping your eyes protected.

man-wearing-quality-sunglasses
Image: Ivana Cajina

Invest in a good pair of sunglasses from a reputable brand, preferably one with that offers 100% UV protection. Check the label or sticker to see the level of protection that pair of sunglasses offers. Reputed brands don’t fudge the labels. If it mentions 100% UV protection, you know that’s what you’ll get.

A common mistake many people make is thinking the darker the lenses, the more protection it will offer. This isn’t true. A cheap pair of sunglasses with dark lenses will offer zero UV protection and you could end up doing serious damage to your eyes. It’s not worth compromising when it comes to the quality of your sunglasses.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration – it’s something we don’t give much thought to as we rush through our hectic days. The importance of staying hydrated cannot be over-emphasized. With the notorious heat and humidity of the tropics, you’ll lose a lot of water through perspiration. Replenishing the water that you keep losing through the day is critical to staying hydrated in these conditions. That occasional sip of water won’t help much. You need to drink plenty of water throughout the day to compensate for the water loss, more so on days that are particularly hot and humid.

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Image: Engin Akyurt

If you have a headache or dry mouth, or start to feel dizzy or excessively fatigued, these could be signs that you are dehydrated. Carry a bottle of water with you at all times so you can drink up as soon as you notice any telltale signs of dehydration.

Avoid consuming too much sugary sodas, alcoholic beverages, or caffeinated drinks. These can make you even more dehydrated. If you’re looking for something other than water, there’s coconut water. Coconut water is a delicious and healthy alternative to water and is generally easily available in most places.

Avoid Peak Sun Times

The sun is at its hottest and most intense between 10am and 3pm. It may not be possible to avoid going out during these hours but try to limit your direct sun exposure during this time. Stepping outdoors between these hours can do the most damage to your skin, especially if you’re careless about your skin care.

Many tropical countries have a tradition of long lunch breaks and afternoon siestas. The reason for this interesting practice is to stay indoors and chill during these peak sun hours. Early mornings and late evenings are more conducive to productivity and conducting business.

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Image: Wally Salinger

If your itinerary doesn’t allow you to stay indoors during these hours, make sure you follow all sun-safety protocols. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin. Wear long, loose clothes that will cover your skin completely and limit exposure while still keeping you cool. Don’t forget your wide-brimmed hat and UV-protection sunglasses. And lastly, pack that bottle of water in your bag before you head out.

If you’re spending the day at the beach, it’s advisable to spend those hours between 10am and 3pm under a shady tree or a beach umbrella.

Get Regular Skin Cancer Checks

Little slip-ups in your sun protection routine can add up through the years. This increases your chances of getting skin cancer.

An important thing to remember is that anyone can get skin cancer from excessive sun exposure regardless of skin colour. Yes, people with fairer skin are more likely to get skin cancer with lesser exposure than compared to those with darker skins. But it’s a fallacy that people with dark skin are completely protected from developing skin cancer. Everyone is susceptible to getting cancer from exposure to the sun’s UV rays, just to different degrees.

Your family doctor should be able to advise you how regularly you should be getting skin cancer checks. For those with dark skin it may be only once every two years, but for those with fair skin it may be as frequent as every six months.

If Things Go Wrong

Maybe it was yet another hectic day outdoors or you were having so much fun at the beach and forgot about taking the proper precautions. It happens. Unfortunately, the sun continues to be relentless regardless of whether you’re prepared for it. Too much sun exposure without the proper precautions can create numerous problems, from headaches, excessive thirst and muscle cramps to racing pulse, fatigue, dizziness, and skin cancer.

woman-suffering-heatstroke
Image: Kenny Holmes

If you experience any of the above, you should immediately get out of the sun and find a cool, shady place to sit under. Drink plenty of water, a fruit juice or coconut water – absolutely no sugary sodas. Apply a cool, wet towel or an ice pack to your forehead, face, and head to cool the skin. Remove unnecessary clothing while you’re in the shade.

It takes time to recover from a heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Don’t be in a tearing hurry to get up and get on with your day. Keep resting, cooling your skin, and sipping on water for at least 30 minutes before you even think about getting up and getting on. Have someone stay with you during this time just in case you need help.

Spending time in the sun has powerful health benefits but too much exposure is dangerous. While you’re in the tropics, whether living here, on an extended stay or just a short visit, observing the sun safety tips listed above will help maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks of excessive sun exposure.


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