How to Avoid a Beach Bummer

Beach safety and health includes considering sunburns and water safety

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

The beach may seem like it's all fun in the sun, but things can easily go awry and health hazards can pile up. Luckily, there are many easy ways to stay safe and avoid a beach bummer.

A trip to the beach can stay both fun and healthy if you're prepared to protect skin and eyes from the sun, have water safety smarts and know how to respond when unpleasant stings occur.

Don't Stand for Sunburn

One of the most common beach bummers is something many people have experienced — a sunburn. Too much ultraviolet (UV) light can cause sunburn and the pain, swelling and redness associated with it.

In an interview with dailyRx News, top dermatologist Dr. Coyle S. Connolly, president of Connolly Dermatology in New Jersey, said there are a number of common mistakes that people make in regards to protecting their skin from the sun, including not taking the proper steps on overcast days.

"People forget to put on sunscreen during cloudy days since they feel the clouds will block the sun," explained Dr. Connolly. "In reality, the majority of damaging UV rays reach the skin through clouds and even untinted car glass. Use sunscreen every day."

It is also important to remember to prepare for a day at the beach before you actually put your feet on the sand.

"Most forget to apply 15 minutes before they go outside," said Dr. Connolly. "The sunscreen does not have a chance to bind properly and loses its effectiveness."

And applying once won't cut it, especially when the surf is involved.

"Most forget to reapply every couple of hours, or after increased perspiration or water exposure," said Dr. Connolly. "Remember, sunscreens may be somewhat water resistant to a point, however, they are not waterproof. Always reapply throughout the day."

Dr. Connolly recommends a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with SPF 30 and avoiding the sun's peak hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Be Eye-Wise

Protecting your body from the sun doesn't stop at the skin - it is important to remember to protect the eyes as well.

According to the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), eyes' overexposure to the sun can cause a variety of problems, including sunburned corneas, eyelid skin cancer and growths on the whites of the eyes that can interfere with vision.

Dr. Connolly explained that proper gear can help keep both the skin and the eyes protected.

"In addition, the use of lightweight sun protective clothing, broad brimmed hats, and 100 percent UV blocking 'wrap around' style sunglasses are vital," said Dr. Connolly.

These "wrap-around" style glasses can help protect the eyes from light coming in at all angles, and a hat with a brim can help protect the eyes from overhead sunlight, explained CUMC.

Swim Safely

According to the American Red Cross (ARC), swimming in the ocean requires different skills and knowledge than swimming in a pool. To stay safe while at the beach, ARC recommends a number of steps, including only swimming at beaches with on-duty lifeguards and making sure to never swim alone or while intoxicated.

One important water danger to be aware of is rip currents — narrow, but strong, currents of water that can move quickly along the shore. 

"If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current," said ACR. "Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore."

Have Sting Smarts

Even if you are safely enjoying the water, there may be creatures to watch out for — jellyfish, for example.

"Jellyfish stings are relatively common problems for people swimming, wading or diving in seawaters," the Mayo Clinic explains. "The long tentacles trailing from the jellyfish body can discharge thousands of microscopic barbed stingers that release venom into your skin."

Though the severity of stings can vary greatly, they are typically treatable using home remedies and over-the-counter products, except in the case of a severe reaction.

If no severe reaction is present, the Mayo Clinic suggests first removing any tentacles and washing the area with seawater.

"The reason you don't use freshwater/tap water to clean the jelly sting area is that this may cause the release of venom still present on the skin," explained Dr. Connolly.

Depending on the type of jellyfish, a treatment using either vinegar or baking soda can be helpful, followed by medicated lotions to relieve itching. Jellyfish sting victims should check with their doctor.

By being both prepared and informed about how to stay safe and healthy, a beach trip can remain the fun and relaxing summertime adventure that it was meant to be.

Review Date: 
April 22, 2014