Simple Tips For Protecting Yourself From Sunburn During A Long Day Of Sightseeing

Soaking up warm rays of sunshine is likely one of the things you look forward to the most when you embark on a vacation. Too much of a good thing, however, can have unwanted side effects and put a damper on your fun, especially excess sun exposure. You've likely already suffered from sunburn at least a few times in your life, so you know how uncomfortable it can be when you begin to experience the symptoms.

A few days of painful, itchy, slightly swollen, and reddened skin may only seem like an inconvenience while traveling. Still, over time, the effects of sunburn can cause premature aging and increase your risk for dangerous complications like skin cancer.

If you plan a long day of sightseeing on your next vacation, taking precautions to protect yourself from sunburn is a good idea. Your skin type and location as well as the time of day and altitude can impact how quickly you can burn. In fact, it's possible to get burned in as little as 11 minutes. However, with a little extra effort, you can enjoy a day spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine without regretting it later.

Why it's so important to protect yourself from sunburn

While sunburn may be a minor discomfort that heals relatively quickly, it can have life-altering consequences like dangerous cancers and premature aging over time. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and cases continue to grow. The more you get sunburned, the higher your risk of getting skin cancer.

Even if you take excellent care when protecting your skin from the sun at home, it can be easy to forget your helpful habits while traveling if you're preoccupied with sightseeing. Remember to consider your skin's health year-round, not just in the summer or in tropical destinations. It's possible to get sunburned even on overcast days and during the winter if you aren't using proper protection. Partly cloudy days might pose an even higher risk. Some types of clouds can increase harmful UV levels by up to 25%, making getting sunburned even more likely. Make sure to check the forecast before you go and pack your protective items accordingly.

Choose a high-quality sunscreen

You've already heard doctors, scientists, and skincare enthusiasts discuss the importance of SPF every day, but what do the numbers on the bottles of sunscreen actually mean? SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures how much UV radiation is needed to sunburn your skin through sunscreen.

The World Health Organization recommends using a sunscreen of 15 SPF at the very least — if you're using anything less than that, it won't be offering much protection. The American Academy of Dermatology states that 30 SPF can block 97% of UVB rays. The amount of protection continues to increase as the SPF number goes up.

Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that can protect against UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays and decide whether you prefer a chemical or mineral sunscreen. If you're worried about being exposed to chemicals over time, you may opt for a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, but be prepared to reapply often. A chemical sunscreen creates a reaction to convert UV rays into heat, per Everyday Health, and will be the better choice if you want optimum protection, extended wear, and water resistance — so consider it for your day of dawdling through a new city.

No matter how effective the sunscreen is, if you don't like how it feels on your skin, you won't put it on. Choose a sunscreen that smells great and feels good on your skin so you'll look forward to applying it. There are plenty of products that serve two-in-one purposes and act as both skincare and sun protection.

Know the right amount of sunscreen and when to reapply

Ensuring that you apply enough sunscreen is also crucial. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends putting on two milligrams of sunscreen for each square centimeter of skin. A good rule is to apply at least two tablespoons to cover an adult body. You can use about a nickel-sized amount to cover the entire face and neck. Makeup that includes SPF is great, but often it isn't easy to apply enough for full protection. SPF makeup works best as an additional layer of sunscreen instead of stand-alone protection.

Apply ample sunscreen about 30 minutes before you head outside into the sun, and make sure to reapply every two hours. Tropical destinations have higher UV radiation levels, making it easier for skin to burn, so you may want to apply more frequently if you're sightseeing in a sunny destination. If you're swimming, reapply sunscreen each time you get out of the water and at least once per hour. Wet skin burns faster, according to the Mayo Clinic. The same goes for sweating. If you are sweating profusely from heat or exercise, reapply sunscreen more often.

Suppose you're concerned about lugging around bulky bottles of sunscreen during your adventures. In that case, small travel-sized options make re-application convenient and easy without breaking TSA regulations. Brands like Neutrogena, Coola, and Babo make great minis that you can easily toss in your purse or backpack before you go sightseeing.

Seek shade during the midday sun

Your chances of getting sunburned between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are much higher because the sun is at its highest point in the sky, which means the distance UV rays have to travel to Earth is much less, according to the FDA. Limiting your sun exposure during peak hours is a good idea. Consider stopping for lunch in the shade, or choosing an indoor activity during the riskiest hours of the day.

An hour of sun exposure at 9 a.m. has the same amount of energy as 15 minutes at 1 p.m., the FDA reports. Even if it doesn't feel like a very sunny day, and you don't feel yourself getting burned, it could still be happening. The midday sun can be more hazardous if you're at a high altitude. Know when to seek shade during the hottest and sunniest parts of the day, and ensure you are adamant about reapplying sunscreen.

If you are extra susceptible to sunburn, avoid the noonday sun and stay in the shade until later in the afternoon. You may burn more quickly if you have fair skin or light eyes, or if you're taking certain medications that make you more sensitive to sunlight; in these cases, you'll have to be extra cautious. Remember that even if you don't burn quickly, it's still a good idea to protect yourself as UV rays can still cause skin cancer in skin that doesn't sunburn, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

More tips for avoiding sunburn during your travels

When traveling, choosing the right clothes and accessories is crucial for your comfort and for protecting yourself from harmful UV rays. Loose-fitting garments with a tight weave offer the best protection because they block UV rays from hitting your skin. Black clothes might feel warmer in the sun, but they help to suck up UV rays before they reach their skin. Bright colors like green, purple, and red are also great options and you might even find some nice choices at local shops while you're out sightseeing. Consider packing an extra layer that covers your shoulders and arms that you can keep in your bag in case you start to feel burned.

Bring a few protective accessories like a wide-brimmed hat to help protect sensitive areas like your face, ears, and neck. Sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection or UV 400 protection are a must because the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes are extra susceptible to burning.

When you're out in the sun, drink plenty of water, especially if you're already burned, because your body needs extra water to help heal. If you don't, you can become dehydrated.

Once sunburned, not much will help with the long-term cumulative damage, but a gentle moisturizer or aloe vera gel can help soothe the skin, and an over-the-counter pain reliever will help with discomfort. A towel that's dampened with cool water helps to cool down the skin. Avoid picking at blisters or itching and peeling skin. For severe sunburn, seek consultation with a medical professional.