Tropical Travel Tips from Your Derms

October 8, 2018

Are you beginning to plan for your next tropical getaway? Before you go make sure to pack your bag with some of our favorite derm picks to keep your skin safe and protected. Let’s think of what our skin might encounter as we head south … sun, water, citrus, & insects. Some of the most popular winter getaway vacations for those of us in the States include Hawaii, Costa Rica, Belize, southeastern Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. Not only do these destinations share gorgeous sandy beaches, water, and wildlife, they are also located close to the equator. The closer your vacay spot is to the equator, the more intense the sun’s rays become. Thus making it easier and faster for your skin to become burned.

First things first, sunburns increase the risk for skin cancer and skin aging, so make sure to come prepared with plenty of sunscreen! We recommend our patients use mineral based sunscreens, ie those containing zinc and/or titanium aka physical blockers. Physical blockers are preferred as they are less likely to cause skin irritation vs chemical based sunscreens (avobenzone, oxybenzone, or PABA). Look for physical blockers with nanotechnology, such as micronized zinc, which reduces the white chalky appearance of sunscreen and gives the sunscreen a more cosmetically elegant feel. Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before heading outdoors as it will need time to form a barrier to protect your skin. Make sure to apply a thick enough layer. A “shot glass” size of sunscreen is the amount needed for an average adult. Reapply every 90-120 minutes and/or after getting wet.

For the face, avoid aerosol sunscreens as they can cause eye and airway irritation. Instead choose oil-free creams, lotions, or sticks. My favorite is Elta MD Clear SPF 46, it great for acne, sensitive, and pigment-prone skin. It goes on white, rubs in clear in seconds, feels silky, and will not yellow your white swimsuit or clothing. If you have acne, consider using Elta MD Clear on other acne-prone areas such as the neck, chest, and upper back. For your body, reach for aerosols, creams, or lotions . Don’t forget to protect your lips with a sunscreen containing lip balm. We wear Colorescience Sunforgettable Lip Shine SPF 35.

Now lets turn our attention to the water. Whether your snorkeling, deep sea fishing, surfing, playing in the pool, or running along the beach your skin is directly exposed to the sunrays from above and those reflecting off the water. Some of the worst sunburns I have seen in my patients occurred while snorkeling. If you are planning any of these fun activities, consider getting a SPF surf shirt (aka rash guard) before you go. SPF fabrics have come a long way and chic versions with SPF 50 are readily available. Check out Shopbop, Lululemon, Roxy, J. Crew, & Letarte. Also remember to pack are your favorite Jackie O shades and a fabulous sunhat. Look to Eugenia Kim, Eric Javits, and San Diego Hat Company for a broad brimmed sun hat or create your own inspired by some pinterest ideas.

Let’s imagine you have been beachside for a few days relaxing, having some tasty margaritas, and practicing your best safe sun techniques. Then, you notice numerous little red dots have appeared on the back of your left hand and wonder what might be happening? It is could be phytophotodermatitis (phyto=plant, photo=light, dermatitis = skin inflammation), and your dermatologist sees this condition quite frequently in patients coming back from beach vacations and cruises. Phytophotodermatitis occurs when the oils or juice of lemons, limes, or oranges gets on your skin followed by sun exposure. It results in an intense inflammatory skin reaction leading to an intense red rash, which may blister, 24-48 hours after the exposure to the citrus juice or oils. The rash can be arranged in a line or curvy shape if the juice ran down your arm or little dots if the juice was sprayed on the skin while squeezing the fruit. If the juice was on the palm of hand and fingers it can produce a handprint-shaped rash if you touch another part of your body. A few days later, the redness fades and the skin turns brown.

So how can you prevent phytophotodermatitis? Enjoy your favorite cocktail, but remember to wash your hands if consuming drinks or handling fresh citrus fruit while in the sun. If you think you accidentally touched your skin with a citrusy hand, then go wash both areas with soap and water. Seek medical attention for any severe pain, itching, swelling, or blistering. The brown pigmentation that remains after the redness has resolved can be improved with a prescription skin brightener and/or laser procedures from your board certified dermatologist back in the States.

Finally, don’t forget many of these tropical locals have insects such as no-see-ums, sand flies, and mosquitos. When traveling to areas containing mosquitos capable of transmitting viruses like Zika, Dengue fever, & Chikungunya, make sure to pack insect repellant. The CDC recommends insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or lemon eucalyptus oil. Just remember to apply your insect repellant on TOP of your sunscreen, keep windows and doors closed at night, and if your hotel room is not well sealed/screened, then consider sleeping under bed nets.

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