For standup paddlers around the country, there is cause for celebration.

Memorial Day weekend is finally upon us and that means summer (and paddling season) has unofficially started. Of course, long summer days spent on the water can also mean getting those dreaded sunburns. But just brushing off sunburns as the not-so-fun part of summer is a recipe for much bigger health problems down the road.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the US and 1 in 5 Americans will develop it during their lifetime. And this impacts young people too, melanoma affects about 90,000 people in the US each year and is one of the most lethal cancers for people under 40.

Protect your skin this summer. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

So does this mean you should sell your paddleboard and cower inside all day? Of course not! Skin cancer is one of the few preventable cancers as 65% of melanomas and 90% of non-melanomas can be attributed to UV exposure.

So to help you understand the best ways to limit your UV exposure, we summoned the help Dr. Rebecca Shpall, dermatologist and creator of the Waterhoody, to come up with four strategies to protect your skin on the water this summer.

Use Broad Spectrum, High SPF Sunscreen

Slathering on a quick layer of SPF 15 may help reassure your mind that you’re making an effort, but your skin would probably disagree.

Wear high SPF sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

“Most people do not use enough sunscreen to achieve the SPF on the bottle (about 1 shot glass full of sunscreen is required to achieve listed SPF),” said Dr. Shpall. “In order to optimize benefit from sunscreen, either use an SPF 65 or greater or put on two layers of sunscreen each time you apply.”

It’s also important to use broad spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB, preferably ones that include the ingredients zinc and avobenzone. And if you’re spending all day on the water, it’s critical that you reapply after two hours. Sunscreens lose the efficacy after being exposed to sunlight and water, so don’t be shy about lathering up between paddle sessions.

Wear Clothing to Cover High Risk Sites

While putting on sunscreen is great, if you really want to prevent sun damage, wearing clothing with a UPF 50+ will provide the best protection from the sun.

Water-resistant clothes are great for blocking UV rays. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

The spots at the highest risk for melanoma include the back, scalp, neck and ears. Wearing some type of water-resistant clothing, like Dr. Shpall’s Waterhoody which covers all of those at-risk areas, is the best way to safely paddle beneath the summer sun.

While wearing a hat is a popular way for paddlers to get some shade from the sun, Dr. Shpall warns that the sun’s rays also reflect off the water and can cause burns to the face and neck. This underscores the importance of applying sunscreen to your face and neck, even if you are wearing a hat and shirt.

Wear Sunglasses

Remember, it’s not just about protecting your skin. Your eyes can suffer damage from the sun as well.

In fact, paddlers are at a higher risk of suffering eye damage because according to Dr. Shpall, the greatest risk comes when there is increased reflective light, which happens when the sunlight bounces off the water.

Sunglasses are a must on the water. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Of course this can be easily avoided by simply wearing a decent pair of sunglasses. And no, that does not include the five-dollar pair you got at the mall. Instead, opt for one that has a sticker or tag indicating that they block 100% of UV rays.

It’s important to note that this is different from polarized lens, which reduce the reflective glare coming off the water, but doesn’t offer additional protection from the sun.

Avoid Direct Sunlight Between 10am and 2pm

If there was a time we’d suggest holding off on that paddle session, the middle of the day would be it.

This four-hour period is when the sun’s rays are most intense and can do the most damage. In fact, 60% of the sunburn rays (UVB) are produced during those hours.

If this is the only time you can paddle, then it is especially important that you follow the prior steps to avoid a nasty burn. But if possible, hitting the water around sunset or sunrise will not only be more pleasant and scenic, but your skin will thank you too.

Happy Paddling!


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