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Cancun Vacation Tips: Sunburn and Sun Safety

Excessive UVA and UVB energy from the sun causes the skin to burn, which can lead to pain and discomfort that will interfere with a fun vacation. The darker your skin is naturally, the more you are protected, but even very dark-skinned people can get sunburned. People with fair skin or many moles must be especially careful, as they are at an increased risk for developing skin cancer.

You can only use bio-degradable sunscreen on the reef. This is our #1 tip for all travelers. Everyday we see vacationers on their 2nd day in Cancun burnt to a crisp and miserable. USE SUNSCREEN!

Don’t be fooled by those clouds overhead or the cool breeze. UV light easily penetrates most cloud coverage, and a cool breeze can fool you into thinking you’re not getting much sun. Infants are particularly vulnerable to sunburn, as their skin is thin and lacks protection against the sun’s rays. Never use sunscreen on children under the age of six months, which means infants need to be kept out of the sun at all times.

If you plan to go into the water, be sure you use waterproof sunscreen. Many waterproof formulations will last for about an hour in the water, and can be especially useful if weather is hot and you become sweaty. Make sure you reapply each time you leave the water, even if the brand says it’s unnecessary.

Important note: if you have sensitive skin, avoid sunscreens with PABA, a common ingredient that can cause irritation; instead try a formulation with titanium dioxide (a non-irritating, non-chemical compound).

What to Do if You Get Sunburn

We offer a great product for After Sun relief. This product is perfect for hydrating over exposed and burnt skin.

If you get a sunburn that causes your skin to blister, you have developed a second-degree burn and may need medical attention. Refer to Burns at MedToGo.com's website for more information. Less severe burns can be painful, itchy, and make your skin feel tight. Take a cool (not cold) bath or apply cool compresses to relieve the pain. Ibuprofen (Motrin), aspirin, or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help, if you have no contraindications for their use. Apply an aloe vera gel or a topical moisturizing cream to reduce the burning and drying that comes with bad sunburn. If you have a bad burn that is very itchy, you may get some relief from 1% hydrocortisone cream or topical sunburn relief products such as Solarcaine.

Sunscreen and SPF

Following careful guidelines can help you reduce your risk. The best way to prevent sunburn is to always wear sunscreen with SPF protection. The higher the SPF, the more protection you get. To calculate the amount of protection you will get from sunscreen, multiply the amount of time it normally takes you to get sunburned by the SPF of the sunscreen.

Therefore, if you normally burn in 20 minutes and you wear SPF 20 sunscreen, you will be protected for 20 minutes x 20 SPF, or 400 minutes (6.67 hours).

Despite this scientific formulation, weather conditions, sweating, and activity can reduce the effectiveness any sunscreen, so be sure to reapply after two or three hours. You can also take additional measures, such as wearing protective clothing and sunglasses, staying in the shade, and avoiding sun during its most powerful hours from 11am to 3pm Excessive and repeated sun exposure can also damage the cornea of the eye and lead to early cataract formation.

About the Authors: Robert H. Page MD & Curtis P. Page MD Authors, Mexico: Health and Safety Travel Guide