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It’s not often that we have a guest contributor on this blog. When one of our regular readers, Bob Stuke, began quizzing me on sunscreen and I told him that I didn’t have enough info to write an intelligent post about it, he offered to write something for us. The text below is the result of that exchange. Comments are welcome and encouraged. Bob tells me that he has thick skin, and if we can believe what he wrote below, I’d say well-protected skin too! 🙂

Rebecca showing off her tan lines!

Wear Sunscreen!

  • I am an avid follower of Mike and Rebecca’s adventures, and like most others, enjoy reading their blog. I grew up on the Intracoastal Waterway in Juno Florida, and spent most of my childhood and early adult life SCUBA diving, water skiing, boating and sailing in South Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. When I was a kid, we didn’t wear sunscreen. It really had not even been “invented” yet. There were barriers, like red petroleum, and zinc oxide, but nothing like we have today. Even Coppertone did not start conducting research until 1971. I was 10 years old by then.

    Fast forward to today, as I prepare to have stitches removed from my forehead after having MOHS micrographic surgery to remove a small spot of Basil Cell Carcinoma. Yes I will be fine, and I am thankful that I go to the dermatologist every year to get checked out. Most skins cancers are thought to be caused by long term exposure to ultraviolet rays. I am not a doctor, but generally agree with this assessment. I also personally feel that you are more at risk of skin cancers if you overexpose your skin to sunlight and cause redness and burning: sunburn. Most of us have experienced this, and know it is painful, and can have an adverse effect on a trip to the Caribbean.

    Mike and Rebecca are acclimated to the sun, as they spend all of their time in the Caribbean on One Love and Zero to Cruising. Even though they are acclimated, they still tell me that they use 70SPF sunscreen on their faces, shoulders and depending on the activity, other parts of their body. They also wear a hat depending on the activity.

    So the question becomes a conversation on best practices when you are out in the sun for even a short time. My observational experience is that most people do not apply the correct SPF sunscreen, apply it at the wrong time, and also do not reapply often enough. If you burn easily, you will want to also consider rash guards and other clothing that have SPF factors.

    So lets drill down on these three aspects, and you will be well on your way to an enjoyable experience when you are stand up paddle boarding in the Caribbean!

    What SPF to use? If you can look in the mirror, and not see any tan lines, have fair skin, or you burn easily, you need to start with a minimum of 70SPF. The best sunscreen technology today is called “Broad Spectrum.” Make sure the sunscreen has this on the bottle. If you have a tan or some color, 50SPF is a good place to start. If you have a good tan, you can drop down to SPF30, but I still recommend SPF50 or above for your head face and shoulders. Also make sure the sunscreen is fresh. If you have a bottle of sunscreen that has been in the cabinet more than one year, throw it away and buy fresh sunscreen to take with you.

    When to apply? This is where most people make the biggest mistake. They wait until they are out in the sun to apply sunscreen. You should always apply sunscreen before you get hot and start sweating, generally 15 to 30 minutes before any activity. I recommend doing this nude so you don’t miss a spot, and don’t forget your back and the back of your legs! If you are going snorkeling, you will quickly burn the back parts of your body, so make sure you cover every inch. Sunscreen needs time to dry and adhere to your skin to be the most effective. Always reapply after getting out of the water and after drying off. It is always best to read the directions, especially when creams and aerosols come into play, they have different requirements.

    When to reapply? This is also a mistake people make. Once again reading the directions is best. In general you do not want to wait more than 60-80 minutes before reapplying sunscreen. Even then you still want to reapply if you spend time in the water and dry off with a towel.

    These simple steps will help minimize sunburn, and make your time in paradise most enjoyable!


  1. Awesome shot of Rebecca! She perfectly highlights the need for putting on sunscreen before the bathing suit. The edges of her skin right below the bikini top and right above the bikini bottom are easily missed and will burn quickly! Two great messages, stay in shape, and protect the largest organ you have, skin!

  2. Hurray! Someone to answer my sunscreen questions!! When you reapply, do you need to wait another 15-30 minutes before re-exposure? And, after being outside, how long do you need to be inside before you can go back outside and have your skin’s sun exposure clock “reset”? We are new residents of coastal south Florida so sunscreen has become an even bigger focus for us than before. Thanks!!!

    • You generally want to be dry when you reapply and certainly wait for it to dry on your skin as long as you can. There really isn’t a reset on exposure, you simply want to limit your time in the sun on a daily basis. The key is you DO NOT want to burn at all, so an hour of exposure could be too much to some.

  3. Great Post! I am a silly victim of not wearing sunscreen everyday on the boat. My dad as had pieces of his ears removed and many spots on his less than hair cultivated head. One day I will be sorry from not learning from others!!!

  4. While most of the is good advice, some cautions are in order. SPF listings on sunscreen refers to the blocking factor for UVB rays, not UVA. “Broad Spectrum” refers to the fact that the sunblock does block both UVA and UVB. UVA exposure is the “bad” one that leads to most long-term damage and skin cancers. UVB exposure leads to sunburn and the redness of your skin.

    In addition to the great advice about when to apply and re-apply, one of the best reasons to use a higher SPF of 30 – 50 is the fact that most people (including me) do not put enough sunscreen on to begin with. Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Institute says sunscreen is tested at an application density of 2 milligrams per centimeter of skin, whereas the average application density is 0.5 – 1.0 milligrams. This effectively lowers the SPF.

    Hats, wrapround sunglasses, SPF blocking clothing should all be a part of your protection scheme. In addition, one of the best things is to try and avoid sun exposure between 10 am – 4 pm. Sailing (under cover), hiking in the jungle, exploring caves, exploring watering holes and SCUBA diving are all good activities that can keep you out of direct sunlight.

  5. I too am a product of a sans sunscreen youth. After the first seasonal burn, we were good to go. Great advice Bob, but I wonder if you could offer any advice as to luring an “applicator” for those normally shaded areas once nude??? 🙂

  6. There are lots of sunscreens on the market that contain carcinogenic chemicals such as retinyl palmitate. The Environmental working group is a great resource to sort through all the confusion around it and has lots of recommendations for better sunscreens.

    They’ve revised it again recently. I recommend checking it out.

    • Another reason to throw away old sunscreen and buy fresh. And read the label! The key is still to wear sunscreen and apply and reapply properly.

  7. And this is a very good read. You guys may want to re-think the 70 SPF.

    • One of the challenges you read about in these articles, is that we do not apply enough to get the rated SPF value, so I always lean on the side of one higher, generally 50 instead of 30, and 70 instead of 50. I would also question the true need for anything above 100, but also remember there are a lot of redheaded fair skin people that need to start and stay at 100, apply lots and lots of it AND wear protective clothing.

  8. All good advice on the sunscreen. However one thing to note about high SPF ratings…anything above SPF45-50 is somewhat meaningless.

    • This is also a great article. My experience has been that a lot people don’t wear any sunscreen at all, or slather on SPF4. Neither is a good idea, and this article even echos the basis of mt message:

      “Whatever product you choose, experts recommend using a water-resistant sunscreen applied liberally one half hour before going outdoors. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming, drying off, or sweating.
      “The best way make sure you are protected is to reapply sunscreen often,” Spencer says. “You just can’t put it on in the morning and forget about it. I don’t care if it’s SPF 800 or the best UVA protection, after a few hours it’s gone.”

      Excellent information.

  9. +1

    The same age as Bob and with basically the same experience, I had a few spots removed from my back 2 years ago. My Dad has had more spots removed.
    * I wear a lot of ugly hats.
    * The shirt stays on, no matter how stinking hot it gets.
    * The SPF 30+ goes on well before exposure, and several times each day.
    * A hard top is a GREAT invention.

    I’m not going to stay inside. But I’m going to be smart about it, because I’m going to be outside for a LONG time.

  10. At the risk of sounding random and/or repetitive….

    – Stay in the shade during the four-hour window centred on solar noon. Siesta is a Good Thing.

    – SPF 30, touched up as needed throughout the day, is a hell of a lot more effective than SPF 80 applied at 10 AM and then left alone until beer time.

    – Even if it says “waterproof”, you can bet your towel will wipe it all off.

    – Yes, you should be nude to sunscreen up, because
    (a) Most light fabrics, other than those specifically designed as tight-weave sun protection fabrics, are not particularly good UV attenuators.
    (b) You’ll miss spots otherwise. (Nothing like a sunburn right where a stitched seam is chafing….)
    (c) Most things are just better nude 😉

    (I spent a few years of grad school doing cancer research… mainly on the radiotherapy technology side, but it also involved more than enough seminars on “here’s the current best practice treatment guidelines for X”. The treatments for melanoma are, at least, vastly less unpleasant than the ones for smoking-induced cancers.)

    • All great stuff, especially the midday siesta. Maybe that is when some fun could happen without bathing suits? Maybe that is why sleep always follows? Not to sound redundant but it is a win-win situation!

  11. Catherine Hammond

    Australia & New Zealand have had a strong education campaign for many years now (started 1981), and stats have just come out of lower skin cancer rates in the under 40 age group. Slip, slop, slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat. Also much emphasis is made about keeping out of the sun between 10-2. When cruising we would avoid going out between these times, and would NEVER be without a hat. I am quite amazed of the photos I see of cruisers out in exotic and tropical locations with out a hat (it may be temporary, to make the photo look better).

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