Vanity about my pale-pink complexion, starting when it was cool to be tan in the late ’80s, has led to three painful rounds of topical chemotherapy on my face, which is really not pretty, friends. So let me share some hard-won and perhaps surprising sun-smart tips for your outdoor adventures.
Sun-Smart Tips for Adventurers
These are essential for hikers, skiers, bikers, beach babes … really anyone who likes to spend time outside, especially here in Colorado, where elevation means you’re even closer to that giant orb that provides a glorious 300 days of intense light a year in my favorite state. You may slap some sunscreen on your nose already, but to be truly sun-smart, make sure you also cover these other bits:
Protect your lips. I thought my constantly peeling lips were just a sign of dry skin. Nope. Those were precancerous spots. The skin on your lips is very fragile and thin. But most lip balms don’t do anything to protect them from burns and sun damage. After looking long and hard, I found Aquaphor with SPF 30 online and ordered a jumbo stash to keep in the car, in my hiking daypack, in my purse, in my bathroom … you get the idea. I even use lip sunscreen before I take out the dog, because here in sunny Denver you can burn in less than 10 minutes.
Protect your hands. They’re almost as exposed as your lips. And you’ll want to avoid further so-called “age spots” or “liver spots,” those dark brown patches that are not a sign of aging at all, but actually sun damage. It’s really dry here in semi-arid Colorado, especially in the winter (and yet still sunny), so I use sunscreen like hand lotion all day long. Waterproof is best, so it lasts between several trips to the sink. A super sun-smart tip? Keep it in the center console of your car, so that you can use it while you’re driving, whether around town or on a road trip. Sun damage happens through windows.
Keep sunscreen in the center console of your car, so that you can use it while you’re driving, whether around town or on a road trip. Sun damage happens through windows.
Protect your hairline and the part in your hair. People with short hair, people with long hair who wear it parted, people who have fair hair…you’re all getting way more sun damage on your head than you might realize. And it’s tricky to spot before it can become cancerous, because, well, hair. This round of chemo cream (Fluorouracil, for those who are curious) has spotlighted the spots along my forehead just inside my hairline that are ripe for cancer, thanks to my fair hair and foolish years inside a tanning bed.
Since becoming sun-smart, I’ve come to love hats. Smudging sunscreen into your hair leaves it looking greasy, so toss in a hat any time you plan a trip that involves time outside. Coolibar even has some with SPF built in, if your travels take you to elevations or shores.
Protect the tops of your ears. Unless you’re wearing a bucket hat or sun hat, the trucker hat is just putting your ears further in the line of danger by tucking away any hair that might have hidden them. Be adventure ready and rub some zinc-based sunblock over your ears before you set foot outside.
Protect your eyes. Did you know that you can get cancer in your eyes, on your eyelids and inside your eyelids from the sun’s rays? Don’t Google this, because the photos are kinda rough, quite frankly. Take my word for it and wear wrap-around sunglasses with UV protection, especially if your travels take you into the water or the snow, both of which reflect the sun’s rays even further.
Protect the tops of your feet. They generally face upward toward the sun, right? So if you slip out of hiking boots or ski boots and into sandals, be sun-smart and wear socks or sunscreen. Don’t Google this either, but you also can get skin cancer under your toenails.
Don’t neglect the bigger parts of you. Many people end up with skin cancer on the backs of their knees, simply because they forget what they can’t see. Don’t count on clothes to always protect you — light-colored and thin fabrics don’t provide much sunblock at all. (Coolibar and other brands make clothes with built-in sun protection.) And don’t forget that the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds…not that we have many clouds in Colorado.
Final sun-smart tip: Keep some sunscreen handy in your carry-on so that, if you’re like me and you hit the ground running as soon as you land, you can protect your skin immediately. Look for TSA-friendly stick sunblock. And once you’re lathered up, reapply, reapply, reapply. Colorescience makes a Sunforgettable Powder Sunscreen that does double duty over your makeup.
(Side note: Check to see whether reef-safe sunscreen is required in your destination, as it is in Hawaii. Or even better — if you’re going in the water, just choose reef-safe all the time.)
The health-conscious part of me wishes that I had done a better job of protecting my skin and stayed out of the tanning bed all those years, because the thought of skin cancer is no joke.
The vain part of me wishes that self-tanners had been better 30 years ago, because even my legs show signs of photo-aging, and because topical chemo cream is a nasty little treatment. (Don’t Google this, either.)
So learn from my lessons and save yourself by being sun-smart. Stock up on hats, sunglasses, sun-proof clothing and sunscreen for all your parts. Keep it handy. And *use* it every time you travel to enjoy the great outdoors.
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