While there are a lot of things us sailors worry about, one of the biggest concerns is skin cancer. We are practically living outside, and the sun reflecting off the water and sand only magnifies it’s intensity. Being a ginger, protecting my skin is a way of life. I have a lot of friends with much darker (and even lighter) skin than me and I often find myself explaining what a sunburn is and that yes, you probably do burn as much as you think you don’t (especially looking at you, white folks who “don’t burn”).
Being sunburnt is bad enough, and being sunburnt while on a 4 hour watch mid day, for several days? I haven’t had to suffer through that thankfully, but I honestly don’t think I’d be able to either. Having a bimini helps keep the sun off you while in the cockpit, but some boats only have a dodger which only offers protection from the sun during certain times of the day.
I use SPF 50 and always select the Zinc products found at Whole Foods or similar health food stores. I go through about a bottle every month or two, depending on what I’m doing. I have a different lotion for my face than I do for my body, as it won’t clog your pores or irritate your skin. I also have an SPF lip balm, as lip sunburns can be rather irritating as well. I use the facial sunblock every day, and if I am going on a short (less than 20 minute) walk with the dogs I won’t worry about applying sunscreen to my arms/legs/chest/back. Otherwise, I lather up and toss it in my purse incase I need to reapply.
I still get burnt several times a year, because the sun will find any spot that I have missed. If I travel to a lower latitude, I generally forget how harsh the sun is and I completely space on reapplying the first day, to end up with a big ol’ burn. Heck, my eyelids even got burnt the first time I layed at the pool in Texas! That doesn’t happen in Seattle. I have finally stopped pretending as if I’m not going to get burnt and just bring the aloe freeze gel with me when I travel. These products have lidocane in them, and although I prefer the blue gel over the green gel, they are both miracle workers and really help the burn heal and ease the pain/discomfort.
I have gotten second degree burns before, both times it happened when I spent too much time in the pool or on the beach. I try my best to cover up, be in the shade, wear wide brimmed hats, etc. It is difficult to cover up when it is hot and humid, though. I find I break up the time I’m in the sun if I absolutely have to be outside when the sun is blazing hot, my skin feels more normal. When I start feeling like I’m getting burnt (while working on boat projects or walking the dogs), it’s time to go inside for a couple of hours. I’ve heard of others not going out during the peak sun hours (12 pm-3 pm) and this certainly couldn’t hurt to work into my schedule.
For the most recent second degree burn I got I ended up using Vaseline on the affected areas just to keep the skin moisturized, as sometimes it felt as if my skin was going to rip when it was dry. Thankfully, there isn’t any scarring and you can’t tell there was a water blister/burn. Even though it may be overkill, I have come back from a sun filled vacation with a new really dark freckle (like 3x darker than any spot I have) that I immediately had removed. I pretty much expect to get skin cancer, and hope I can catch it quickly enough.
On the first day leaving Hawaii for my 2014 ocean crossing, I was trying to be cautious yet still cute. The next morning, my lips were sunburnt and my face was a little tender. So… I did something I’d never done before and just went full ambush on the sun’s attempts to fry my delicate skin. I did not care how much of I resembled a beachy jihad. Comfort and safety is key at sea.