What to pack
Dr. Lee Bittenbender of the Dermatology Center of Lawrence and Dave Bonnel of Travel Leaders give a run down of what to pack to help your skin stay safe over spring break.
• Sunscreen. Pick at least SPF 30. Plan on using an ounce per application and pack the amount accordingly.
• A wide-brimmed hat.
• A light, long-sleeved shirt that provides enough protection to be a physical block.
• Aspirin and/or ibuprofen just in case you do get burned.
— Sarah Henning
The first time Lee Bittenbender ever went skiing, the Lawrence dermatologist saw firsthand how a lack of sunscreen can really pull the plug on a long-planned bit of fun.
“One of the guys, kind of was like, ‘Oh, I never burn.’ And he went out and just got fried — oozy, blistery. Just really bad,” says Dr. Bittenbender of the Dermatology Center of Lawrence, 930 S. Iowa. “(He) could not ski for the next three or four days. You can really ruin a vacation with a little indiscretion from the beginning.”
The beginning being before you leave on your trip. So, listen up, spring breakers, that means you.
Dave Bonnel of Travel Leaders, 4104 W. Sixth St., says packing a few extra items can be the key to saving your skin, whether you’re hitting the beach or the slopes this spring break.
“Enjoying the sun is the main activity of many spring break vacations, and sun protection is critical. Skin that’s been hiding under long pants, long sleeves and woolly hats all winter needs lots of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30,” Bonnel says. “Pack a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and a hat in case you’d like to enjoy the warmth of the sun without exposure to burning rays.”
Bittenbender says that one of the biggest problems with sunscreen isn’t that people leave it at home or eschew it all together like his former ski buddy, it’s that they don’t wear enough.
“Studies show people put on about a third of the amount that they need to put on to get the protection on the label,” Bittenbender says. “And so, if you’re using an SPF 30 sunscreen, you might think, ‘OK, I’m the average person, I put on a third of what I should, I’ll get about a third of the protection.’ But it’s not even close to that. The protection falls off dramatically as you put on less than what you should.”
In fact, Bittenbender says that if you even put on half the amount you need of an SPF 30 sunscreen, you can expect to only get a real SPF of 5.5. Yep, that’s all.
“As a rule of thumb, to cover your body with sunscreen takes about an ounce. That’s about a shot glass size,” he says before laughing. “Students might relate to that.”
And for those of you who were planning to hit up a tanning bed before hitting the beach? You’re no better off, says Bittenbender. He says that according to a recent study, the UVA rays supplied by the tanning beds don’t do anything to make the sun’s UVB rays any less damaging.
“I thought it was interesting somebody actually studied that because I think that’s a common misconception .... you hear people say, ‘I’m going to go get a “base tan” to protect my skin,’” Bittenbender says. “You still get the damage. Now, you may get so tan to where you don’t burn as easily, and maybe if that’s all somebody’s after, then OK, but people need to understand the very basic concept that if it’s tanned, it’s damaged.”
Bittenbender says it’s best to put sunscreen on first thing in the day and to always keep it with you to reapply. He seconds Bonnel’s suggestion of taking a long-sleeve shirt for more coverage and adds that while it might not be cool, a good investment would be in a wide-brimmed hat.
“That’s maybe not as stylish as the baseball cap, but the baseball cap only protects from about your hairline to your eyebrows,” he says. “It does nothing for the sides of your face or your ears or next or so on.”
What if you misjudge and end up getting burned on vacation anyway? Bittenbender says that if it’s bad enough, see a medical professional while you’re there. If not, use a cool compress — like a wet washcloth — on the affected area, pop an aspirin or ibuprofen, and be careful with blisters.
“If you have developed blisters, you can maybe poke the blister right at the edge to just let the fluid out, but you don’t want to unroof the blister,” Bittenbender says. “If it’s bad enough, you (should) seek medical attention.”
Those of you staying in Lawrence for spring break aren’t off the hook either, by the way. Bittenbender says that getting your kids into the habit of putting on sunscreen as they go out the door to the back yard or park will help when the sun’s rays are more damaging in the middle of the summer.
“I think a concept that parents should get is that putting on sunscreen is protecting your kids’ skin — somewhat analogous to when you get in the car and say, ‘Everyone put on their seat belt. No, we’re not going until everybody’s got their seat belt on,’” Bittenbender says. “And with the kids, they’re going to be in and out all day and so, say, ‘OK, before you go out, we’re going to put on sunscreen.’ And hopefully then they’ve got some degree of protection.”