I just returned from an amazing family reunion and winter getaway trip to sunny Polynesia cruising aboard the fabulous Paul Gauguin. It was a fantasy vacation of endless bright white sandy beaches, clear blue water, hours of snorkeling, countless lagoon boat rides and meals outdoors, but the UV rays were intense. I can’t remember ever being in such intense sun since I’ve been a dermatologist. It was a living laboratory for beach going sun protection tactics. I was prepared but many of the other 200 cruisers weren’t and boy did I see sun burns that gave me the chills.
The next time you have an opportunity to migrate south for some winter sun, don’t let your winter getaway land you with crispy-fried-skin and a lifetime of sun damage. ‘Cabin fever’ is a dangerous thing if it means being careless about your skin on your vacation. Plan your sun protection strategy before you leave and your skin will get as much R&R as your psyche does.
I watched a lot of my fellow cruisers learn the hard way that skimpy swim suits, sleeveless shirts and slathering sunscreen on uncovered skin aren’t enough sun protection in the intense equatorial sun. I’d planned my sun protection strategy in advance and I was able to stay outdoors all day in the intense sun and entirely avoid sun burning my fair skin.
The take home message is that you have to plan your sun protection strategy in advance. Mix and match your sun protection methods to stay comfortable while you keep the rays off your skin.
Dermatologist’s Sun Protection Survival Guide for Cruising Polynesia:
- Wear A Full Body Sun Protective Suit When Swimming. You may not feel like it’s the height of fashion, but it’s absolutely essential for hours of swimming and snorkeling. Honestly, you’ll be cooler than everyone else once you’re wet because as your suit dries the evaporation cools your skin temperature. I wore my trusty Coolibar swim tights and my Billabong Rashguard swim shirt. I’d throw them on over my swim suit when I was ready to get into the water. Before swimming I’d wear a long sleeved sun cover-up over my suit and a mid-length skirt.
- Always wear a full 5 inch brim UV protective hat when your head isn’t actually in the water.
- Use mineral sunscreen on all uncovered part of your body. I always had a generous layer of Solbar zinc or Citrix sunscreens on exposed skin. I only trust my skin to mineral sunscreens made with 5% or more micro sized zinc oxide. I’m convinced by the scientific data that zinc oxide provides the broadest UV ray protection and that zinc oxide sunscreens are the most reliable products that we have. It’s important to know how to correctly apply sunscreen and I reapplied every few hours and after coming out of the water. I also protected my lips with LipCotz (mineral lip sun protection). Even wearing a hat, the reflected UV rays were amazingly intense and bounced up off the sand and water so facial and lip sunscreen was critical on this trip.
- Wear UV protective sun glasses to protect your delicate eyelid skin. I applied sunscreen on my eyelids (Citrix and Solbar Zinc don’t sting my eyes), but anytime I was outdoors I also had sunglasses or a snorkel mask on.
- If there’s shade, be in it! On this trip canvas awnings were common, but they usually don’t block all the rays. The same goes with the shade created by trees. Even in complete shade UV rays bounce up from sand and water or off walls so I always wore sunscreen or used sun protective clothing on my exposed skin from sun up to sun down. If there wasn’t shade available I used my travel sun umbrella from Coolibar to make it. It’s lightweight, compact and retracts to fit perfectly in one of the side pockets of my travel backpack.
- Make fashionable sun protective clothing using SunGuard. I could wear nice Polynesian sun dresses or tank tops during the day, but I protected my shoulders and arms with my two nice and breezy white linen cover-ups, both of which have SunGuard protection washed into them.
My skin saving strategy was so easy and comfortable that I almost felt guilty as I watched people struggle with sunscreen on their vulnerable uncovered skin. I’ve made a mental note that next year I’m going to mail out my Ultimate Sun Kits and these instructions to my friends and family if they plan to flee south for a sunny winter escape.
This was an amazing trip and I feel so fortunate to have had the invitation to escape our dreary, gray, wet Northern California winter. Because I have family in Polynesia I’ve been there a number of times, but I’ve never had so much beach and snorkel time as I did cruising Polynesia on the Paul Gauguin. This was the best tropical getaway I’ve ever had. The sun exposure was intense, but it was worth it and it was possible to come home without a sun burn or even much of a tan. It’s hard to believe that just a week ago I was actually somewhere sunny and bright.
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