A person lying in a hammock on the beach

Tips on avoiding sunburn while vacationing

Your vacation is fast approaching and you want to enjoy the sun, maybe improve on your tan and feel re-energized? A well-deserved rest. You should be aware, though, that not planning properly for your exposure to the sun’s rays can have a negative impact on your holiday. Whether you’re travelling in Canada or elsewhere, you need to be careful not to sunburn so you can fully enjoy your vacation.

What is a sunburn?

Sunburn is defined as the result of excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB). These can damage the skin’s natural protective barrier and alter the skin cell structure. That, in turn, can cause burning that we commonly call a sunburn. Direct and prolonged exposure can be the primary cause, but light reflected off snow, water or even sand can also cause sunburn.

Overexposure to the sun has many consequences, including premature aging of the skin and, in more dire circumstances, may provoke certain forms of skin cancer.

Sunburn symptoms

Most people figure out they have a sunburn by the deep reddening of their skin after having been in the sun too long. While red skin may be the most obvious sign of sunburn, other symptoms might also occur in the hours and days following sun exposure:

  • A sensation of warmth or sensitivity on the affected skin zone
  • Eruption of blisters
  • Peeling skin
  • Fever, chills and rashes

 Overexposure to the sun can also cause heat stroke which has the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst

These can also be signs of serious dehydration which, in the worst cases, can prove fatal. Symptoms like this require immediate rehydration and urgent medical attention.

How to avoid sunburn while travelling?

  • Reduce your exposure to the sun: use a beach umbrella, wear a hat and clothing that breathes easily while protecting you.
  • Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB ray protection.
  • Limit the time you spend in direct sunlight and monitor UV ratings so you’re aware of when the sun is at its strongest, generally between 11am and 4 pm. Usually I try to avoid the sun between 11am and 1 pm, whether I’m home in Québec or travelling elsewhere.
  • Apply sunscreen and make sure it provides UVA and UVB protection. An SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 is the minimum recommended level.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water before you feel thirsty to avoid dehydration. In my travel first aid kit I always include electrolyte tablets in case I begin to feel dehydrated.

Some medicines can heighten your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, making you more vulnerable to harmful UVA and UVB rays. Ask your pharmacist about any interactions between your medication and the sun before you leave on holiday.

You should be aware that some types of travel, by their nature, imply greater sun exposure and thus greater care. I’m thinking particularly of things like high-altitude trekking and all-inclusive sun-destination packages in particular.

What to do for sunburn?

If you’ve got sunburned despite trying not to, here’s some advice:

  • Keep hydrated.
  • Apply a refreshing moisturizing lotion.
  • Avoid scratching at blisters or lesions.
  • Consult a doctor if a lot of blisters appear or if you feel severely dehydrated.

Enjoy your summer holiday and stay protected!

Gabrielle Asselin