How To Stay Healthy On Spring Break

mezcalWhether you’re a beach-bound college student or a middle-aged couple headed to the Rockies for some end-of-season snow, spring break presents the same health risks every year. Fortunately, they’re all easily preventable by using common sense and following a few basic rules.

This year, here’s hoping your only souvenirs are great photos and even better memories.

Hangover helpers
You could just watch your alcohol consumption, or try drinking a glass of water in between drinks, but I hear you laughing. Try to maintain, especially if you’re in a foreign country, traveling alone or at altitude. If I wake up with a hangover that not even a truckload of Tylenol can cure (it’s also not good for your liver when taken in combination with booze), I swear by coconut water, which is loaded with electrolytes. Don’t forget to consume regular water, as well, and get something in your stomach that’s full of complex carbs and protein, not grease (sorry).

Adjust for altitude
Regardless of your physical condition, altitude sickness can strike anyone. Give yourself a couple of days to acclimate, hydrate frequently and take ibuprofen, aspirin or even Diamox if you’re really feeling bad. Watch your alcohol consumption! One drink has the effect of two (see above if you ignore this advice).

Prevent food- or waterborne illness
Far be it from me to tell anyone to avoid street food, unless they have a compromised immune system, or are very old or young. You can safely enjoy street eats in foreign countries, as long as you know what to look for. If a stall or vendor doesn’t have a line, or their sanitation practices are poor, give it a miss; the same rule applies to restaurants (just because gringos flock there doesn’t mean it’s safe). As for water, I avoid ice cubes in rural areas and from street vendors, and always check bottled water in developing nations to make sure the seal isn’t broken. Don’t forget to travel with Imodium, because nothing is ever foolproof.

Save your skin
Yes, you need to wear sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy, rainy or snowing, and you need to reapply it thoroughly every two hours. Wear a minimum SPF 30 broad spectrum product. Ask your dermatologist for referrals; not all brands are created equal.

Be self-aware
Being drunk n’ sloppy is never attractive, but it can also be downright dangerous. Know your limit, stick with you friends if you’re not traveling solo, and if you (ahem) get separated, maintain phone contact, let them know where you are and who you’re with, and when they can expect you back. We’ve all had a spring fling, but safety should always come first.

[Photo credit: Flickr user dbrekke]@

It’s That Time Of Year: Neova Sunscreen

We had a run of spectacular weather recently, and some of it even fell on the weekend. I hung the hammock in the backyard for the first time in over a year and then, fell asleep in the blazing sunshine. My face wasn’t completely tomato red, but I was pinked up. I had forgotten the sunscreen.

I’m much better about sun protection than I was when I was a younger, California based, tan pursuing lass. Some of it’s a byproduct of moving north to Seattle, other parts of it are just that I’m considerably more aware of the damage sun can do to my skin. I got a brutal sunburn on the tops of my ears last year while on safari in Tanzania due to neglect – at least I’d been wearing a cap and didn’t burn the top of my melon or my nose.

On day two of the best weekend since last summer, I remembered to cover my face, neck and the tops of my ears with SPF 45 with some sunscreen that’s been kicking around waiting for a reason to exist. It worked, and though I fell asleep in the hammock again, I woke up half an hour later no more reddened for the, uh, effort.

NEOVA’s DNA SPF 45 damage control sunscreen is expensive stuff. It’s about $46 for a TSA approved serving (that’s three ounces). The main ingredient is zinc, but it’s transparent so you don’t get that white smeary look when you’re wearing it. It feels just a little sticky when it goes on, but that doesn’t last, and it has almost no scent, so it’s easy to forget you’ve got it on. It’s waterproof, though it never hurts to reapply every few hours if you’ve been swimming or especially active.

There’s a lot of marketing language with this product around anti-aging and DNA repair and the kind of stuff that makes us think we can reverse the effects of 20-plus years of forgetting to apply sunscreen when we go to the beach. I’d like to tell you that it made me look like I was 20 again, but no dice. I will tell you that it’s not rocket science that you should wear sunscreen and that if you spend a little more money, you get sunscreen that feels a bit nicer and doesn’t smell like plastic.

Summer travel: how not to sizzle your skin

The good folks at CNN have released a helpful guide and accompanying photo gallery horror show of solar ray-blasted epidermis. In “5 ways to avoid getting deep-fried,” you’ll find dermatologist’s tips to protect your sun from UVA/UVB damage, skin cancer detection links, and entertaining anecdotes of CNN reporters’ worst sunburns/precursors to melanoma.

I love the sun as much as most holiday-makers, but years of basting myself in baby oil, combined with the onset of crow’s feet in my early twenties and my mother’s own ongoing struggle with basal and squamous cell carcinomas have turned me into the Queen of Sunscreen. While my friends still mock me, and a former farmers market employer once remarked, “I can always tell when you’ve been hugging my dog, because he smells like sunscreen!” I feel vindicated because at 41, I look a good ten years younger, and have yet to develop my first pre-cancerous lesion. I get an annual screening at my dermatologist, and religiously apply a minimum of SPF 30 UVA/UVB sunblock over all exposed body parts (please remember the back of your neck, hands, ears, and knees, and tops of your feet).

Gadling has a more detailed explanation of what the heck all this SPF stuff means, and a guide to choosing sunglasses that do more than just look hip. I also wear, and heartily endorse (unpaid, of course) the sun protective clothing by ExOfficio, and sun protective hats by Outdoor Research. Sounds wacky, but these items are constructed with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) textiles that, while not a substitute for sunblock, provide a great dual-defense system. They’re also attractive, and incredibly versatile and travel-friendly. Don’t hide from the sun this holiday weekend; just take precautions, have fun, and think of all the money you’ll save by not requiring reconstructive surgery and Botox.

(Image credit: Flickr/Saspotato)

Sunblock formula for dummies

Congratulations to me. I finally figured out what the SPF number stands for.

I am pretty religious about using sunblock (that’s what having cancer at the age of 29 will do to you) but I never actually knew what that number meant, aside from SPF 20=good protection. SPF 30=better protection, and so on.

The website Skin911 breaks Sun Protection Factor (SPF) down in a way that makes it easy to understand. Go figure, SPF is all about the length of time spent in the sun:

  1. Take the time you would normally burn in the sun without protection. 20 minutes would normally produce redness on a light skinned individual.
  2. Multiply that number by the SPF factor of your product. Example: with an SPF 15 X’s 20 minutes of sunburn time = 15 x 20 = 300 tells how many minutes you may stay in the sun without burning. 300 minutes divided by a 1 hour of 60 minutes = 5 hours of sun protection without sunburn.

The amount of time to achieve redness with the sunblock applied determines the SPF. As people vary product results will vary on individuals in the market place.

I guess I am safe with 25 for a few hours. (Note to self: Not in Australia. Australia calls for hard-core SPF application and re-application)