The Hidden Danger of Tropical Winter Getaways

Planning an escape to sunny shores? Travelers should be advised that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun plays a significant role in the development of skin cancer, and the concentrated sun exposure received during a tropical vacation is especially dangerous. 

Your risk of skin cancer depends greatly on your cumulative lifetime sun exposure, but melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has been linked most frequently to intense, intermittent exposure. This kind of periodic, concentrated UV exposure frequently causes sunburn and severely damages the skin. It is believed to also play a part in basal cell carcinoma (BCC).  

“Prolonged sun exposure is always dangerous, so even those who are dedicated to protecting their skin need to be extra cautious in very sunny conditions,” said Perry Robins, MD, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. “At any age, a person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has ever had five or more sunburns.” 

Having numerous moles is a risk factor for melanoma, and a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that white English women who vacationed in hot countries had 74 percent more moles than those who had never vacationed in tropical climates. The researchers determined that the association was greater in women who took these holidays between the ages of 18 and 29, and that their moles were more likely to appear on the trunk and lower limbs — areas typically covered up in everyday life and thus more vulnerable to sunburn and other sun damage from the intense exposure often sustained during hot-weather vacations. 

If you're fleeing the cold, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends protecting yourself with these warm weather vacation tips: 

Cover up! Wearing more clothes may seem counter-intuitive at the beach or pool, but sarongs, long sleeves, and wraps will shade your skin and help keep you cool, as well as sun-safe. In addition, wearing swimwear like wetsuits and rash guards offer extra UV protection when you’re in the water. 

Accessorize: Sunglasses that filter out the sun's UV radiation will help protect your eyes and eyelids from conditions ranging from cataracts to macular degeneration, while a broad-brimmed hat (with at least a 3" brim all around) will help protect the top of your head, neck, face, ears, and scalp by blocking as much as 99% of the sun’s UV rays. 

Beware of Reflection:  Surfaces such as water and sand reflect the sun's UV radiation back at you, adding to the intensity of exposure. Seek the shade, or make your own with items like a large sun umbrella, and hit the hot spots early in the morning or late in the afternoon - you'll avoid the crowds and save your skin! 

Be Sunscreen Smart: A broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is a must. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply one ounce, or two tablespoons, every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.