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  • 1 Post By Joy Smith
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Old 06-08-2004
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Protecting Ourselves from the Elements


Perfect sailing days can be hazardous to unprotected skin and eyes.
As sailors we lead, by definition, active outdoor lives that place us at the mercy of the elements. Ironically, it is precisely the elements that make for a perfect sailing day—plenty of sun and a good breeze—that are the most detrimental to our health, conveying unstable oxygen molecules that sneak through our skin, attack our DNA, and weaken our body's ability to fight off any ailments. Eventually, through repeated sun and wind exposure, the elasticity in our epidermis breaks down to create weather-beaten, wrinkled skin and—more seriously—considerably increases our risk of contracting skin cancer, deadly melanoma, eye diseases, and a variety of immune system disorders if we are to believe recent and abundant medical evidence.

So do we give up sailing on sunny, breezy days to protect ourselves, or do we continue doing what we love best and place our health at risk? Distressing as the news may be, there's no need to sit in the cockpit, entrapped by this Catch 22 of sailing. Indeed, we can put up a good fight by taking some basic protective measures before leaving the dock.

Build-up your defense     Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, B, C, and E, are the magic bullets that fight off harmful free radicals and even repair DNA damage.

  • Load up on antioxidant-rich foods, such as leafy green and yellow orange vegetables and fruits.
  • If you are a fussy eater, or are under undo stress that saps nutrients, replenish your supply by taking a full-spectrum, multivitamin pill daily.
  • A good night's sleep, supplemented by afternoon snoozes in the cockpit, will give your body needed "down" time to make repairs.
  • Drink heavily, preferably water. You'll need about eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day to keep body processes running smoothly. In situations where you've worked up a sweat churning the winch or have chugged diuretic beverages like coffee, beer, or wine, be sure to replace lost fluids by drinking extra water.
  • Schedule cancer screenings regularly with a dermatologist, and use the opportunity to update your skin care regimen.


If you're sailing shirtless make sure to apply suncreen (at least SPF 15) thoroughly and frequently throughout the day.
Protect your hull    
Our skin is the "hull" that protects our interior from air pollution, harsh chemicals, sunlight, and overheating.
  • Begin each boating day, rainy or sunny, with a full body slathering of SPF15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen, containing ingredients like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and Parasol. Reapply sunscreen after swimming and periodically throughout the day, even though the label may claim the product lasts all day and is waterproof.
  • Toss out that cache of sunscreen you haul out each season. If they've summered or wintered on the boat, or are over two years old, these lotions may no longer be effective.
  • Seek shade under your boat's bimini top or sunshade.
  • Wear a hat. The popular "baseball cap" does only half the job. Shelter your head, face, eyes, ears, and neck by wearing a style with a four inch brim that circles your head. A light-colored, breathable, tightly woven fabric won't make your head sticky and hot, and you'll be less apt to take it off.
  • Cover up with light-colored, tightly woven or knit shirts and pants. Special fabrics with built-in SPF protection afford superior defense, especially for folks with highly sun-sensitive skin.
  • Buy your tan in a bottle. The new tinted self-tanning lotions reveal missed spots as you apply them, look natural, and have built-in sun protection.
  • Slough dead, scaly skin from legs and arms using a loofa pad, mesh shower ball, or scrubbing granules each time you bathe to help skin retain and attract moisture.
  • Seal off skin pores from invasion by smoothing on nutrient-loaded lotions or sunscreen after showering. Look for buzzwords, like "age defying," "advanced," "recovery," "hydrating," "multi-vitamin," and "antioxidant." Oil-free products add needed moisture without greasiness and shine.
  • Certain medications, sun allergies, as well as frequent use of high levels of exfoliating fruit acids (AHA), spa glycolic acid treatments, peels, and other skin stripping treatments will increase sun-sensitivity. Take extra precautions if you have these conditions.


Awnings and bimini tops make life cooler and reduce sun exposure.
Reinforce exposed and sensitive areas    
Use a complete sunblock or a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher on continuously exposed areas: face, ears, nape of neck, tops of knees and feet, backs of hands, and forearms.
  • Face and eyes are sensitive to strong ingredients, like PABA. Choose a sunscreen or sunblock that is specified for facial use to avoid skin rashes and itching, tearing eyes.
  • For age-fighting antioxidant protection and increased resistance to sun damage, dermatologists recommend layering pure vitamin C serum under facial sunscreen.
  • Hands are tattletales about age and abuse, and dry, cracked hands invite infections. Avoid irritation by wearing rubber gloves when working with strong cleaning products, and sailing gloves for all boat-handling duties. Gloves also block sun from hands and help keep them moist. Use the same skin care regimen you use on your face on your hands, and their looks will improve.
  • Keep smiling with a smear of high SPF lip balm. The moisture will help prevent sun-triggered cold sores.
  • If you're a magnet for lip sores, search the shelves for zinc oxide (a total sunblock) and apply this as "war paint" to lips and other highly sensitive areas—nosebridges, foreheads, and even bald spots on scalp. The surfer-style neon tubes are still available, but you may prefer using the new, inconspicuous transparent gel sticks.


Wide brimmed hats and sunglasses protect the face, neck, and eyes.
Keep your eyes open     
Squinting in the sun encourages eye crinkles. Both UVA and UVB rays can seriously damage the retina, leading to blindness, cataracts, and skin cancer of the eye area.
  • Wear sunglasses that absorb 99 to 100 percent of the full UV spectrum to 400nm, even if you have ray-blocking contacts. Be wary of lenses that claim to "block harmful UV" without saying how much they block.
  • Polarized lenses cut the sparkling effect of sun on water; a wrap-around style offers the most coverage and looks "cool."
  • You can get your glasses checked for UV protection by having them tested by an optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist.

Reinforcements are on the way     Scientists are continuously researching ways to help us counteract premature aging and cancer and improve our longevity.

  • Prevent and ease itchy sun rashes with Alphaglucosylrutin (AGR), one of the newest antioxidants. Find it in the skin care section in products, such as Eucerin Daily Sun Defense SPF15.
  • Reduce and reverse DNA damage from the sun with an enzyme derived from ocean algae, Photolyase. This summer, Dermablend and Bath and Body Works both introduced products laced with it.
  • Preventing cancer is a possibility with a chemically altered form of vitamin D that is currently being developed.
  • Live longer with a powerful antioxidant under study that uses compounds made by a Bedford, MA, firm. So far, it's almost doubled the life of a worm.

Your love for the boating life doesn't need to leave you vulnerable to the weather elements, as long as you take a few extra minutes each day to mount your defense by protecting your skin and maintaining good general health.

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