Pouring on the SPF 40 is something that we’ve been told to do at the beach since we were little kids. But how important is it that students take the proper precautions next week on spring break while basking in the sun?
Susan Haney, clinical program director for Student Health Services, said she thinks sunscreen is indispensable to taking good care of your skin if you are taking a trip to a tropical place.
“Students should wear sunscreens with SPF of at least 30,” Haney said. “They’re still going to get some color with that SPF, but it is necessary to not burn and to avoid skin cancer and all the other things that come with skin damage from the sun.”
She said that students should put it on 30 minutes before going out into the sun, and reapply it every two hours, especially if they are going into the water.
“Water actually reflects the sun, so if you are going to swim, I would recommend using a waterproof SPF, because you can burn while you are in the water,” Haney said.
She said that most of the SPF’s are better as a lotion or cream, but as long as it protects, any one will do. She also said to avoid the sun at its peak hours.
“10 a.m. (to) 2 p.m. is the best time to take a break because this is when the sun is the strongest and can do the most damage to the skin,” she said.
While many students like to head to the tanning salon to get a base tan before their travels, Haney said she would not suggest hitting the tanning beds.
“Tanning beds are actually just as dangerous as the real sun,” she said “There is nothing I can say from a medical standpoint about safe tanning except to use the spray on tan, because it really does do a lot of damage to your skin.”
According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to ultra violet rays from the sun is one of the main causes for skin cancer.
“The sun has a cumulative effect,” Haney said. “Many people think that if you tan gradually, you’re safe, but in reality, tanning of any sort is harmful.”
If you do get burned, she recommends taking an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin four times a day to treat the sunburn, and use aloe vera locally to soothe it. If there is blistering or swelling, she said the spring breaker should seek medical attention.
Another tip Haney would make to students for a healthier spring break is to always stay hydrated.
“You should constantly drink water while you’re in the sun to avoid getting dehydrated,” she said.
Mixing alcohol on the beach isn’t a very good idea either. “The dehydrating effect of the sun and drinking alcohol will speed up intoxication and make you feel dizzy and nauseous,” Haney said.
Also while abroad, there are certain things to watch out for, like the local water or food.
“To be safe, you should drink only bottled water, and avoid putting ice cubes in your drinks,” Haney said. She recommends using bottled water even when you’re brushing your teeth. “Students should try to avoid raw fish and meat, and make sure if they are eating fruits, that they are washed properly.”
She said it seems students are much more vulnerable to illnesses during spring break because they make a lot more visits to student health the week they come back.
“We are usually very busy the week the students get back from spring break,” Haney said. “Students come in with stomach viruses, bad sunburns, viral illnesses, and colds and orthopedic injuries.”
One thing everyone can do? Pick up a spring break kit available at student health. It’s packed with samples of sunscreens, condoms and information packets. And, of course, don’t forget to pack your sun block! n
“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.