At the Florida Sea Base, for years we have suggested to our staff members and participants what they use SPF 50 or higher sunscreen liberally and frequently.  This is obviously in an attempt to avoid sunburn and sun poisoning.  You may have never heard of sun poisoning.  It is essentially a step beyond sunburn and is a common issue at the Florida Sea Base.  PLEASE READ MORE…

Too much of a good thing.

Too much of a good thing.

I don’t know what weather service you use – if any – but one of my favorites is Weather Underground.  On the local forecast page, under Current Conditions, they include the UV index.  It is rated on a scale of 1 to 16.  Today, the UV index in Dallas is 1 and at Sea Base is 6.  Bear in mind that it is December.  But the point is that there is 6 times as much UV in the Keys today as compared to Dallas, Texas.  In the summer, the UV index at the base is frequently in the 14 to 16 range.  Staff have sunburned through their white, Class A shirts.  Sunburn and sun poisoning are serious problems.

I entitled this post “Sunscreen” because there is growing controversy over sunscreen preventing sun burn but contributing to skin cancer.  I copied this from Wikipedia:

Controversy over sunscreen

The statement that “sunburn causes skin cancer” is adequate when it refers to basal-cell carcinoma the mildest form of cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma. But it is false when it comes to malignant melanoma (see picture: UVR sunburn melanoma).[8] The statistical correlation between sunburn and melanoma is due to a common cause — the UV-radiation. However, they are generated via two different mechanisms: direct DNA damage is ascribed by many medical doctors to a change in behaviour of the sunscreen user due to a false sense of security afforded by the sunscreen. (Other researchers blame insufficient correction for confounding factors; light skinned individuals versus indirect DNA damage.)

Topically applied sunscreens block the UV rays as long as they do not penetrate into the skin. This prevents sunburn, suntanning, and skin cancer. If however the sunscreen filter is absorbed into the skin it only prevents the sunburn but it increases the amount of free radicals which in turn increases the risk for malignant melanoma. The harmful effect of photoexcited sunscreen filters on living tissue has been shown in many photobiological studies.[9][10][11][12] Whether sunscreen prevents or promotes the development of melanoma depends on the relative importance of the protective effect from the topical sunscreen and the harmful effects of the absorbed sunscreen.

The use of sunscreen is known to prevent the direct DNA damage that causes sunburn and the two most common forms of skin cancer, basal-cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.[13]However, if sunscreen penetrates into the skin, it promotes the indirect DNA damages, which cause the most lethal form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.[14] This form of skin cancer is rare, but it is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer-related deaths. Increased risk of malignant melanoma in sunscreen users has been the subject of many epidemiological studies.[3][4][15][16][17][18][19]

Please go to and search sunburn for the full article.

I am not sure whether using sunscreen liberally for one week is a concern.  But in the event that you are concerned, I thought I would mention some alternatives.  First, going without some form of protection from UV is NOT an option for most participants at Sea Base.  If you are concerned about sunscreen, then you should consider SPF type clothing and hats.  These are long sleeved shirts with collars and long pants plus a hat to shade the neck, face and ears.  They are made of lightweight material but can still be relatively warm to wear.  They still leave the tops of hands and feet and potential areas for serious sunburn.  They are also quite expensive.  But they are a good alternative to sunscreen.

Also, if you are going to use sunscreen (and I know most of you are), please do not bring the spray or pump type.  You will be on a boat.  There is usually some sort of breeze associated with being on a boat and the spray gets in peoples eyes, mouths, on the deck of the boat (VERY hazardous) and everywhere else you don’t want it to be.  Dehydration goes hand in hand with sun exposure.  I will write about that in the near future.

For now, please consider sun exposure in your preparations for coming to Sea Base.  About once a week we see this routine:  Lack of use of preventative measures leads to sunburn or worse, sun poisoning.  If a person has sunburn or sun poisoning they are significantly dehydrated.  Now they have pain and possibly nausea and are requesting medical treatment.  A sailboat may take four hours or more to reach a dock where we can extract the participant.  Now the participant goes to the ER where they are given an IV (for the dehydration), pain medication and possibly antibiotics.  Their adventure is over and everyone else in their crew has been affected in a negative way.  Please make adequate preparations and don’t let this happen to anyone in your crew.

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