The travel bug has arrived thick and fast for many Australians, flocking to the closest airport now that the world has opened back up post-pandemic.
Whether you are travelling interstate to see family after a long time apart or you're planning to check Europe off your bucket list — no one could blame you for hurriedly packing and rushing out the door. However, before you leave home, there is one important travel companion you should never leave behind: sunscreen.
Our hot Australian summers have trained us well to lather up and protect our skin, so if you're travelling somewhere tropical, remember to pack your sunscreen. But, sunscreen is a vital product to keep in your bag for any vacation, even if your destination is in the winter season or you are stuck on a long-haul flight to get there.
Apply sunscreen when you take off
Keeping your sunscreen applied during travel is important, whether you're sitting in the window seat or sprawled out on the beach. The ultraviolet light exposure you can get from sitting behind an aeroplane window can cause a world of damage to your skin. If you've ever been sitting by the window on a particularly sunny day, you will know how hot and uncomfortable your seat can get and, worse, how red your skin can turn.
While you’re sitting in an aeroplane, UV rays don't have to travel as far to cause damage, as the elevated altitudes increase their intensity, increasing both your rate of ageing and your risk of skin cancer. Flying at 7000 to 12,000 metres high puts you much closer to the sun, and doing so for 60 minutes can be as dangerous as spending 20 minutes in a tanning bed since the Earth's atmosphere is less filtered at cruising altitudes than it is on the ground. Given that tanning bed services have been made illegal in Australia due to their high risk, that's saying something!
Pilots and airline crew are at a high risk of developing skin cancers like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), as they are exposed to more ultraviolet and cosmic radiation compared to the general population. Non-melanoma skin cancers account for 60% of all cancers that develop among airline workers, and, while BCC and SCC are less invasive than melanoma, if left untreated, these cancers are likely to spread to nearby body tissue.
Glass windows in aeroplanes offer less protection than plastic. Aeroplane windows are sheeted with a covering that blocks most ultraviolet radiation, but glass is less defensive against UVA rays, contributing to a greater melanoma risk. While this lamination is more efficient against UVB radiation, the perpetrator of BCC and SCC, it is still a good tip to keep a tube of sunscreen in your carry-on bags (less than 100ml) and reapply throughout the flight.
Use travel sizes while you're on the move
A travel-sized tube of broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30+ is handy to keep in your bags and is a great overall way to remember to be sun smart! Storing products in easy-to-see places will help jog your memory about re-application, an essential step in sun safety.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen should be applied approximately 30 minutes before your flight takes off or you leave your hotel and reapplied every 2 hours. You may feel silly applying sunscreen while technically 'indoors', but you can rest easily knowing harmful rays are being kept at bay.
All about sunscreen application
Sunscreen should be worn when the UV Index is 3 (moderate) or above. Many people, both travellers and locals alike, get caught out because they don't apply the right amount or type of sunscreen at the right time. Pair that with the fact that most of the country has a UV Index of 3 or above for most of the year and that 85% of Australians don't apply enough sunscreen daily, the risk of skin cancer speaks for itself.
No sunscreen can block out 100% of the danger from the sun. However, when paired with clothing, shade, and a hat, it forms a strong line of defence. Your normal clothing—including hats, gloves and vests—will provide some protection against ultraviolet rays, called the UV Protection Factor (UPF). UV rays can penetrate through fabrics into the skin, so garments with a tighter weave, thicker or darker material, or the addition of UV-absorbing chemicals will offer the best coverage.
Don't forget that long-sleeved clothes will also provide plenty of protection against the sun.
How much is enough?
The recommended amount of sunscreen for an adult is 5 ml for each limb plus the chest, back, face and neck, equating to approximately 35 ml over the entire body. The best practice is to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and reapply it every 2 hours, but more frequently if swimming or sweating.
When deciding which sunscreen to purchase, there are products to cater for everything! Any climate, sand, water, skin type, price range and personal preference... there are even insect-repellent sunscreens for those travelling to the tropics, hiking or camping. If you are not one for lotion or cream, tubed and roll-on options are also reliable. Spray sunscreens should be applied directly to the skin and rubbed in, paying careful attention to avoid the eyes.
And don't worry about sunbaking for that good Vitamin D! When the UV levels are above 3, you will get all the Vitamin D you need in just a few minutes while completing everyday activities, so head out for sightseeing instead!
Travel tools to keep you sun safe
When travelling, you're likely planning to download helpful apps and bookmark useful websites to keep your trip safe and fun.
A great tool regarding sun safety while travelling is the SunSmart sunscreen calculator, which will tell you how much sunscreen to apply based on your location in Australia.
Moreover, the SunSmart Global UV app uses information from the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPNSA) to inform you about your risk of sun exposure and alert you to reapply when needed. The app will allow you to plan your trip based on the UV prediction of your area, which should be just as closely monitored as your risk of getting caught in the rain.
If you're interested in monitoring the UV index manually, the ARPNSA has an incredibly accurate, location-based Ultraviolet Radiation monitor that breaks down the ultraviolet levels at your location hour-by-hour.
Travel with peace of mind
You deserve to spread your wings, explore the country and escape overseas.
The doctors at SunDoctors are the experts in checking your skin for signs of skin cancer. Before you head off, ensure a clean bill of health with a skin check at one of our clinics located near you, in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. We can't wait to hear about your travel plans and give both yourself and your family peace of mind, letting you and your loved ones enjoy your holiday adventures safe from the sun.
Call us on 13 SKIN (13 75 46) to book your appointment today!