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.

Five uses for carabiners (besides climbing)

I’m a big multi-tasker. I’m also tiny, cheap, and a “lite” traveler. Even when I’m going on the road for a couple of months, I somehow manage to cram it all in my backpack. I use a daypack for carrying my essentials (passport, credit cards, cash, documents, sunblock, sunglasses, water, etc..), but it’s only so big. At 5’2″ I don’t like to haul around something the size of a parasitic twin.

This is why I love carabiners. These oval, pear-, or D-shaped metal clips–of the style used by rock and mountain climbers–are handy and versatile, and come in a variety of sizes, gauges, and prices. I never use professional carabiners, which are more weighty and costly than my intended uses (they also have screw, auto-, or triple-locks, rather than straight gates, which I find more handy for light use). I do, however, purchase heavier, stainless carabiners of the sort found at REI or other outdoor stores.

I seem to find a new use on every trip, and admittedly, I sometimes resemble either a pack mule or a bag lady after a day of exploring, shopping, or hiking. But who cares? It’s better than wrecking my back by using a bigger pack or traveling with shoulder bags that don’t don’t compress well (I do, however, keep a canvas tote rolled into the bottom of my big backpack so I can haul souvenirs home).

So what exactly can you do with ‘biners? Read on.

1. Carry your baseball hat or shoes on your backpack
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this, both on my daypack and large pack. Sometimes I don’t have enough room to pack my running shoes, Chaco’s, or hiking boots, or maybe I need a spare pair of shoes for a day trip (apologies to former seatmates who have endured the stench of my sweaty shoes during flights). I also wear a baseball hat for sun protection if I’m doing any kind of outdoor recreational activity, but once I’m done with it, snap.

2. Clip on some shopping bags
I travel with a nylon shopping bag in a stuff sack (I recommend ChicoBags) so I can cut down on plastic if my daypack is full. But it’s a pain to carry multiple shopping bags, regardless of material–especially if, like me, you’re easily distracted and tend to leave them behind at every stop. Clip ’em on to your day bag and they’ll make it back to your accommodation. I also carry my travel coffee mug this way (obviously, you want to purchase one with a full handle, which can be tough to find for some reason).

[Photo credit: Flickr user chriscom]3. Air-dry your bathing suit
Knot the straps or, if you’re a guy, use that little waistband tie (many boardshorts also have key rings in their pockets). Um, don’t forget a change of clothes.

4. Key ring
I love travel-size tubes of sunblock that come with carabiners on them. Not only does it provide me with an accessible way to reapply when I’m paddling, hiking, riding, or skiing, but I get a free key ring out of it once I’ve refilled the tube to death. When I’m traveling, I snap my hotel keys (card keys are few and far between on the budget traveler trail) to a carabiner, and attach them to my body or within my daypack. Some people prefer to leave keys at the front desk, but the control freak in me likes to hang on to them.

5. Makeshift/emergency zipper
I discovered this one last week when I acquired a few too many ponchos and woolen hats in Chile. My tote bag was overflowing, so I snapped a large ‘biner onto the handles. It helped contain the alpaca within, and kept my souvenirs from scattering throughout the overhead bin on the plane. The same concept applies if you have a zipper break on a bag. It won’t solve things if it’s an item that requires checking, but at least it will help keep your belongings together until you find a replacement.

Got any cool travel uses for carabiners? We want to hear about them!

Protection from the Sun: When Sunscreen Isn’t Enough

It’s not uncommon in Asia to see umbrellas used for more than just a rain shower. Head out on a sunny day in Taiwan, and you could still be dodging them. I saw many women walking down the street in the protection of an umbrella’s shade on a day when the sun’s rays beat down. I would dodge them, wiping off perspiration, hoping that my sunscreen lasted. I’m sure that my freckles made me look mottled to most Taiwanese. Okay, so I like my freckles, but there is that pesky issue of skin cancer.

There’s a company, Soleil Chic with a mission to keep people’s skin shielded from the sun. After her husband died of skin cancer, Lynn Rose began making umbrellas and hats that block UVA and UVB rays. Even if you put on sunscreen, unless you reapply it every two hours, you’re not as protected as you might think.

This article in the Washington Post in August is about how umbrellas are becoming more common for anytime weather in the U.S. For those looking for better protection, Soleil Chic products look like a great option. However, as you travel about, don’t forget you have one of these umbrellas, and leave it behind somewhere. They aren’t that cheap, They are less expensive, however than a pair of high quality sunglasses.

A Canadian in Beijing: Umbrellas Not For Fellas

Today they’re calling for a high of 37 degrees Celsius here in Beijing. The sweat gathers on my skin within seconds of stepping outside and I was so agitated by yesterday’s (equivalent) heat that I went straight to the market and bought some super light-weight shorts and a light-weight, long-sleeve shirt to help me survive. My Canadian summer clothes cannot compete with this heat. I had to relent.

Oh, and flip flops. I had to abandon my sneakers and socks. My feet were threatening to leave my legs in dramatic abandonment; their long term relationship was near to crumbling in a fiery mess with my feet dumping my legs after burning my leg’s favourite pants in disgust and cleaning out the pedicure account. I can just imagine my leg’s shock at their departure (I’d obviously be sitting down for that news)… and, that gives a whole new meaning to the expression “footloose and fancy free,” don’t you think?! Perhaps it is best said: “Footless and fancy free?”

Alright, now that I’ve thoroughly amused myself . . . (I think the heat is getting to my brain!)
The sun here is way too hot for my white skin. I’m going to have to gather some more light-weight, long-sleeved shirts like this one. I have had to lather on the sunscreen to avoid a burn even on the cloudy days. I am really sensitive to sun anywhere that I am and the sun in China is no exception.

I’ve noticed that the women in Beijing all carry umbrellas on sunny days. It makes me think of the olden days (or old movies) where women are wearing corsets and flowing gowns with petticoats while twirling umbrellas with lace or fringe along their edges. Women here carry umbrellas to protect against the sun that are pastel in colour but otherwise look like regular umbrellas. It’s a great plan, really, and it makes for a beautiful array of bouncing colours everywhere. In fact, seeing these umbrellas all over town brings to mind images of balloons gathered and floating from the hands of children at fairs and carnivals. It seems happy somehow.

When I first noticed this practise, I looked out my window in the morning to check the weather before school and I saw a bunch of umbrellas in the courtyard and assumed it was raining. In fact, I didn’t even notice the sun, just the umbrellas. I grabbed mine (a black one) and headed out.

When I got outside, I noticed that it was a brilliant sunny day and clued into the fact that these umbrellas I had seen were to protect against the sun. I thought, “Great plan! I’ll do it too!” and I opened my umbrella and walked across the basketball courts and towards my classroom buildings on the other side of the campus.

About one hundred yards into my walk, I start to sweat profusely. The heat under the umbrella was intense, like I was being cooked. People turned around to glance at me strangely a few times and then, as sweat dripped directly into my left eye and stung me to the point of having to stop, put my bag and umbrella down on the sidewalk and fish around for a tissue . . . I realized why they were staring at me.

When I moved the umbrella away from my body, I was greeted by cool air and felt refreshed. I thought, “How could it be cooler without the umbrella? It’s 36 degrees today!” And then it occurred to me how genius I am:

The umbrella is black.

Yes, there is something to be said for colour. Sometimes colour is not about style and is all about function.

I put my umbrella away and walked the rest of the way to class unprotected. Either I get a pastel one, or I wear my hat, sunscreen and long-sleeves while walking under the trees for sun protection. I’ll go with the latter option. I don’t need any more stuff… and I’m truthfully not really ready for a pink umbrella in my life.

Now let’s get back to the fact that it is only women who are carrying these umbrellas. Why not men? Would it be too feminine an act to carry a pastel-coloured umbrella to guard against these aggressive rays? I guess so. And in China, where gender division is as obvious as the stupidity of my umbrella’s colour in this heat, I suppose such a question is also out of the question (!)

Although, as I am wont to do, I asked it anyway. I believe my questions was: “What do men do to protect against the sun? Do they ever carry umbrellas too?” First, I got only laughter as a response, but when I pushed for a real answer, this is what I got: “Of course I would not carry such an umbrella!” my friend said in slightly shocked and exaggerated English (and his cute Chinese accent), “That is for women to do, not for men!” And then he laughed some more.

I suppose “sun umbrellas” aren’t likely to become “son umbrellas” anytime soon!

I looked down at my feet and smiled.

So much for my visions of an umbrella-holding gender revolution in China.

A girl can dream.