Working as a doctor in playa del carmen I get calls from hotels and houses every day, I also see tourists and locals in my practice and in 3 years of experience in the Riviera Maya I can tell you that the top 3 reasons why non-locals call me are: Earache, diarrhea and sunburn.
Do you know what surprises me the most? All 3 are perfectly preventable. So even though the old joke: preventive medicine kills returning business was one of my favorites in my student years, nowadays seeing people loose wonderful vacation time because of those 3 really takes the smile out of my face.
So lets talk about sunburn and one very important item you should really never leave your home/hotel without: Sunscreen… and Lip balm. I know they are actually 2 but they should be used as one, since both serve the same purposes: sunburn protection and skin cancer prevention. YES skin cancer can appear on the lips!
According to the CDC skin cancer is the leading cause of cancer in the US. (Why I don’t use Mexican data is the subject of a whole new article) But also: sunburn is painful, it is associated with fever, and despite all the advances in medicine it will take you about 3 days to recover, 3 long days inside your room, with the beautiful Caribbean see calling you from far away, believe me…it is not fun.
But alright, back to sunscreen…
But first: Please remember that sunscreen is not the first line of defense against sunburn, common sense is. Do not go out in the sun between 11 am and 3 pm, even outside these hours always look for shade and don’t try to get tan for more than 15 minutes at a time, trust me on this: 15 min is more than enough to get you burnt.
Ok, ok. So which SPF number should I use?
To answer that question first let me tell you this: the problem with SPF is that it only measures the superficial damage done to the skin by UVB rays (redness and burn) and not the one done more deeply by UVA rays (aging) and it is also misleading, because it doesn’t matter which SPF number your sunscreen has, if you apply it wrongly you will think you have sun protection but in reality you will burn (literally) Most people just use too little sunscreen, about 75-50% less than needed!
No sunscreen provides protection from UV rays for a period longer than 2 hours.
That is right, if you use SPF 30 you need to reapply it in two hours and if you use SPF 50 you need to reapply it in 2 hours, on the contrary if you use SPF 70 you just need to reapply it in… That’s right, 2 hours!
So the American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen with SPF 30 of higher, one that is waterproof and that is broad spectrum, that means it protects against both UVB AND UVA rays.
For children under 6 months please avoid exposure to the sun, after that age the same rules apply when choosing a sunscreen for the little ones, adding to that, products that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide or products labeled “for children” may cause less irritation to their skin.
If you happen to be looking for a sunscreen in Playa del Carmen visit the Derma Skincare pharmacy they specialize in skin products and have an extensive list of sunscreens, and they also have Lip balms with sunscreen, which you should use.
Now that you have the right sunscreen use it as follows: Apply it 15 to 20 minutes before going outdoors, because it takes about that much time for your skin to absorb it and be protected. One ounce or a tequila shot worth of sunscreen (that is more or less the amount that you can hold on your palm) is the right amount to cover all exposed areas of the body.
Remember All areas, for example balding men should use sunscreen in the scalp or wear a hat, also protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 30. YES skin cancer can appear on the lips (I cannot repeat myself enough on this)