As crew, you probably spend more time in the sun than not, but even those who work in the interior cannot escape the sun’s rays. Do yourself a favor and reevaluate your sun care routine — make sure you’re protecting yourself from the sun’s effects as best you can.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). It’s the same in the UK, and Cancer Research UK notes that rates have been rising since the 1960s — each year, approximately 140,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed and more than 15,400 new cases of melanoma. The vast majority of skin cancer deaths in the U.S. are from melanoma, with nearly 20 Americans dying from it every day and an estimated 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer daily. According to the AAD, “In 2019, it is estimated that 7,230 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 4,740 men and 2,490 women.” The good news is that both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas — the two most common forms of skin cancer — are highly curable if caught and treated early. For melanoma, if caught before it spreads to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent, the AAD says.
Sun protection is vital, every day. Of prime importance, perhaps, is to use ample sunscreen of no less than SPF 30. “The added benefit of the higher SPFs isn’t too significant, and in fact there is commonly a misconception that the higher SPFs last longer, which can lead to excessive UV exposure,” says Dr. Jerome R. Obed, DO, a board-certified dermatologist at Broward Dermatology & Cosmetic Specialists in Fort Lauderdale. In addition, stay in the shade as much as possible, and wear a hat, sunglasses, and sun protective clothing. Following your dermatologist’s guidelines is key to staying healthy or catching an issue in its early stages.
“The most common problem we see is that people often don’t realize that even the best sunscreens only last eighty minutes,” says Dr. Obed. “Additionally, it is important to note that a significant amount of the ultraviolet light (particularly UVA) penetrates the clouds and even glass, so it’s important to protect yourself even on those cool, overcast days.”
According to a 2018 University of Liverpool study, you also need to pay attention to how you apply the lotion. “On average, people missed 9.5 percent of the whole face, with the most commonly missed areas being the eyelids, where on average 13.5 percent of the eyelid was missed,” the study reported. It also specified that the area between the eye’s inner corner and the bridge of the nose was overlooked by 77 percent of the study’s participants. The study points to this being a concern as more than “ninety percent of basal cell carcinomas, the most common cancer in the UK, occur on the head or neck, and between five and ten percent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids specifically.”
Choose a Good Sunscreen
While there is a plethora of choices when it comes to sunscreen, do your research before you buy. “I often tell my patients that the sunscreen that works is the one you’ll actually use, so find one that suits your skin type,” says Dr. Obed. “Facial-specific ones (such as EltaMD UV Clear and La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear) tend to be less irritating and less likely to clog your pores.” Of course, keep your eye on the expiration dates and replace your products as needed. Also, “you want to keep [sun products] out of temperature extremes,” Dr. Obed recommends.
Bear in mind the SPF in your moisturizers does not offer the same benefits as wearing sunscreen, the University of Liverpool study showed. “Moisturizers with sun protection factor (SPF) provide less sun protection than the equivalent strength sunscreen in real-world scenarios, and people are more likely to miss areas of their face when using them,” the study maintained. Part of the findings claimed that people are apt to apply sunscreen more liberally, while taking a lighter hand with moisturizer or makeup. Bottom line — wear your sunscreen, and don’t be stingy!
So, despite your best efforts, your guests spent a little too much time on the water toys without reapplying sunscreen and arrive back to the boat sunburned. Your first step is to try to alleviate the pain and soothe the skin as best you can. “Topical steroids (OTC hydrocortisone or a stronger prescription one) work well acutely when mixed with a gentle moisturizer such as CeraVe lotion,” Dr. Obed says. “You can also take antihistamines such as Benadryl to help with itching and inflammation but use caution since these can make you drowsy.” Hopefully, the burn is not severe, but if it is, you may need to consult with a medical professional. “If a burn is severe, your doctor can administer an oral or injectable steroid to more quickly improve your symptoms,” says Dr. Obed.
Even if you don’t get burned, the sun can have other consequences. Dr. Obed notes that a common reaction he sees concerns the sun and exposure to acids from citrus fruits. “This is called a phytophotodermatitis,” he says. “We see this often in those squeezing limes into Coronas and other beverages, at which time this reaction can leave them with red, irritated lesions that, over a few days to weeks, leaves them with discolored areas that can take months to resolve.” So keep an eye on those limes!
“In addition, women (particularly those on birth control pills) often develop a facial discoloration known as melasma with even the mildest of sun exposure,” Dr. Obed says. “Once this develops, it is terribly difficult to treat, so it is important to do your best to prevent this by being extremely cautious around the sun.”
Dr. Obed’s final word on sun protection and preventing sunburn can be summarized in just one word: “Reapply!”
For more related content:
Sunscreen: Eco Implications
Crew Concerns: Crew Welfare on Board
Injured on the Job