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Winter Vacation: Sand, Water & Sun Protection at the Beach

By , On , In Sun Protection

It’s easy to turn our thoughts to a warm-weather vacation when the temperatures start to drop. With travel having been on the back burner for the last two years, many of us have big plans to head to sunnier destinations. 

If you’re packing your bags for a holiday this winter, make sure that you don’t forget your sun protection! In this article, we’ll cover why it’s important and what sun protection methods are the most effective.

Vitamin D & warm-weather appeal.

Sunshine is important. In the body, energy from the sun (UVB radiation) converts vitamin D precursors to active vitamin D in our bodies. While we can obtain vitamin D through natural and fortified foods and supplements, we can’t make active vitamin D on our own. It’s essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones and body systems healthy.

Sunshine also helps to elevate our mood. When the sun is shining, we feel better. It often goes hand-in-hand with being active outdoors, improving our physical and mental health through exercise and community. We’re not here to say that you should never go outside, here at the clinic we promote sun protection for active outdoor lifestyles. However, vitamins are not an excuse to maximize exposure and throw caution to the wind.

To reach the daily vitamin D recommendation through UVB exposure, the average person requires about 10-15 minutes in the sun, just a few times a week. If you’re out and about on a summer day, protected head-to-toe, you’re likely still getting all the vitamin D you need. 

two women pulling their kayaks back into shore after being out on the water, wearing sun protective clothing on winter vacation

Why sun protection matters more than you think.

While there are some benefits to minimal UV exposure, more often than not the harm outweighs the good. When UV rays reach our skin, they can cause tanning, burning, and damage to our DNA. This can lead to premature aging and eye damage, immune system suppression, and devastating skin cancers such as melanoma. 

UV rays are always present, no matter the weather or the time of year. Additionally, there are certain risk factors that can intensify their effects 

  1. Light skin.The lighter your skin, the more likely you are to burn from the sun. This is especially true in the colder months. If you’re planning a warm weather vacation in the middle of winter, this applies to you. 
  2. Time of day.
    The sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. During your winter vacation, you’re likely to be outside during the sun’s peak hours nearly every day. 
  3. Unshaded areas.
    If you’re out exploring the city, without shade and with the sunshine radiating off the cement, your odds of getting a sunburn increase. Sun damage often happens from exposure during day-to-day activities, not just from being at the beach. 
  4. Surface reflection.
    Much like sunshine radiating off cement, other surfaces reflect UV rays to different degrees. Some of the most-reflective surfaces are sand, snow and water. If you’re heading to the beach, be cautious of UV rays bouncing off of your surroundings. While beach umbrellas are a great way to block direct sun from above, you can still come into contact with indirect rays.
  5. UV Index.
    The UV Index is a rating scale, numbered from one to eleven, that indicates the quantity of UV rays reaching the Earth’s surface. This rating is meant to be used to measure the strength of the sun, helping people gauge the level of protection they need. The higher the UV index, the greater the strength of the sun’s UV rays and the faster you can burn.
    While the UV index is an important tool, you can never be over-protected. If you’re planning on spending time outside, regardless of the UV index, we recommend always being prepared. 
woman sitting on the side of a pool with feet in water, wearing sun protective clothing on winter vacation

Your winter vacation sun-safe checklist.

A packing checklist may be nothing new to you. Who doesn’t want to make sure they pack all of their favourite travel essentials? This time, try adding a few new sun-safe items to your list. Not only will you protect your skin from damage, it’ll save you from having to spend a couple days indoors healing a painful sunburn. Find the newest additions to your winter vacation packing list below.

  1. Sunscreen.This is the obvious one. Your list likely already includes sunscreen, but is it enough? Make sure that your sunscreen is a broad-spectrum formula with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. 
  2. SPF lip balm.The skin on your lips is thin and more delicate, meaning that they easily burn and accumulate sun damage. An SPF lip balm will help you keep your lips soft, hydrated and protected from the sun. 
  3. Sunglasses.Your eyes are incredibly vulnerable to sunlight. In fact, UV radiation can cause serious eye conditions like cataracts, keratitis (burned cornea), and ocular melanoma. Regardless of your outdoor activity, protect your vision with UV protective sunglasses that are rated UV400 or higher.
  4. A wide-brimmed hat.Pack a hat that doesn’t let in UV rays, like a tight-weave straw hat or a UV protective hat. We like a wide brimmed hat because it protects your neck, ears and shoulders too. 
  5. UV protective clothing.
    Not all clothing is equal when it comes to sun protection. Your regular long sleeve shirts only have a UPF of 5, and they are meant to stay dry when you wear them. Designated UPF clothing has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+, wet or dry. With high-quality sun protection, you can rest assured knowing that you’re covered.
  6. A list of museums and other indoor sites to visit during the sun’s peak UV hours.The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. It’s best to plan wisely and schedule a break from being outdoors during that time. If you come equipped with a list of entertaining spots to visit during the day, you’ll save yourself from over-exposure to the sun. 

Prevention is the best medicine.

Don’t make the mistake of forgetting your sun-safe gear when you travel this winter. It’ll save you from dealing with the consequences later, and it’ll make your time away that much more enjoyable. Happy travels!

PS: if you’re planning on heading south for the whole winter, be sure to check out our Sun Care for Snowbirds article.