What You Should Know About Sunburn

Today is National Sunscreen Day, and there's no place better to celebrate than at the Walt Disney World Resort. Spray it on, slather it up, don't forget your ears " wearing sunscreen is vital to staying healthy and happy throughout your vacation!

We originally published this article last year, but it's one of those articles that just never goes out of style.

As we move into the warmer part of the year, sunburn becomes a definite possibility. This is especially true when we vacation in parts of the country that are further south, like Walt Disney World. In the summer, shorts and short sleeve shirts are the rule of the day, especially as the temperatures climb. Since Disney World vacations are almost entirely outside in the sun, we run the risk of sunburn every hour that we are exposed. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to you about sunburn, sunscreen, and protecting yourself on vacation.

Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun damaging the skin. If a sunburn is minor, it can look like the skin is just a little pink where it was unprotected. Severe sunburn, however, can be deep purple-red, blister, and can cause flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, nausea, headaches, and weakness. Moderate and severe sunburn can be extremely painful, and any sunburn causes damage to your skin. Prolonged and repeated sunburn can lead to skin cancer and even melanoma over the course of years.

Don't Forget To Re-apply!Don't Forget To Re-apply!

All is not lost, though! With a few precautions, you can minimize or prevent sunburn from making your Disney vacation less than magical. If you have to be outside between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. try to stick to shady spots if possible. Wear a broad-brimmed hat to help protect your face and neck, and consider wearing long-sleeved shirt and pants. Specialty travel and outdoor stores sometimes carry clothing that is specifically made to provide sun protection factor (SPF) of as much as 50. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses if you can, to protect your eyes, and USE SUNSCREEN!

Let me say a few words about sunscreen. First, anything with an SPF over about 20 is really overkill. SPF tells you the amount of time that it would take for skin to start to turn red after exposure, and it works like this: If we figure that it takes about 20 minutes between exposure and unprotected skin to start reddening, and SPF of 15 lengthens that timeframe by times. In other words, that SPF of 15 multiplied by 20 minutes gives you about 300 minutes of protection. That means that, applied properly, SPF 15 will protect you for about 5 hours. SPF of 30 will give about 10 hours of UV protection, if applied properly, while an SPF of 50 will allegedly give you almost 17 hours of protection if you wear it right. Start by applying your sunscreen about 20-30 minutes before you hit the outdoors, so that you give enough time for the ingredients to bind to your skin.

Hats and Sunglasses Provide Face ProtectionHats and Sunglasses Provide Face Protection

Of course, you need to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours or after getting wet (either swimming or sweating a lot) and after toweling off, and you need to apply enough in the first place. The Skin Cancer Foundation (where I got my sunscreen information) suggests that you need to apply about 1 oz of sunscreen per person, per application, in order to get full effectiveness. That's about one shot glass full for each application. Wear your sunscreen even if it is cloudy out, since almost 40% of the sun's rays come through heavy cloud cover. Remember to get the sunscreen on the tops of your feet, the tops of your ears, your nose, and your chin. These areas are often forgotten or missed. It's also important to watch to see if your traveling companions are burning. Chances are that you'll know before they do, so stay alert and remind them to re-apply!

When you choose your sunscreen, choose a high quality one, not the $1 store no-name brand. Look for the Skin Cancer Foundation seal, and especially look for something that protects against both UVA and UVB, and choose a product that best meets your needs. For a trip to Disney World, your best bet will probably be something with the Skin Cancer Foundation "Active" seal, shown below.

How to Select A SunscreenHow to Select A Sunscreen
Look For This Seal On Your SunscreenLook For This Seal On Your Sunscreen

If you don't get the sun protection thing quite right and you come down with a case of sunburn, the most important thing to do is to stop the burn. Tylenol or Advil can be taken for pain, and cool compresses applied to the burn help it feel better quickly. If you have access to it, an aloe vera gel or other moisturizing lotion, including 1% hydrocortisone cream, applied to the burn can both speed healing and improve discomfort. Some people have very good experience with aloe spiked with menthol, which helps the skin feel cooler and relieves discomfort. And, as with any outdoor activity, drink lots of water or electrolyte beverages such as Gatorade, during the course of your outdoor fun, but especially if you get sunburned. Stay hydrated, since sunburn dries out the skin and dehydrates the body.

You'll Know When Companions Are Burning Before They DoYou'll Know When Companions Are Burning Before They Do

Sunburn doesn't have to put a damper on your summertime family fun, either at Disney World or back home. With a little planning and preparation (and a little knowledge), you can have a long and fun-filled day at the parks. Remember to reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours, and make sure to drink plenty of water.

What are your tips for dealing with sunburn at Walt Disney World? Share your sunburn story and travel tips in the comments below!

Our thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick and forum member Robyn Watson for their sunburn pictures. Thanks so much to our Health & Safety blogger, Geordon Van Tassle, for this informative guest post. If you would like to learn more about packing your travel bags to be prepared visit his blog Hurricane Dad for a more details.

finngirl wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 13:01:

finngirl's picture

I'll second remembering to apply sunscreen to the tops of your ears. I have short hair, and had badly burned ears a few years ago. Painful, and when they start to peel, not very attractive either! Now that's the first place I put sunscreen.

Joe D wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 14:30:

Joe D's picture

Don't be fooled into thinking because its cloudy or overcast that you cant get sunburned, YOU CAN!

crazycatperson wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 14:35:

crazycatperson's picture

My sunburn story goes like this: I use sunscreen almost religiously while on any vacation or outing that involves spending time in the sun, along with wearing a hat and finding shade whenever possible. My usual travel companions frequently skip the sunscreen and like to lie out in the sun at the beach, pool, or water park instead of under an umbrella. I am the only one in our bunch who has never gotten a burn. Some of their burns were quite nasty, so nasty that one burn actually triggered a case of shingles in my husband. And if you think sunburns can sting, try shingles!

Ansley wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 15:00:

Ansley's picture

I live in South Georgia and practically grew up at Disney World. About a decade ago, my aunt and uncle from Boston decided to take a trip down...in late July.

Not always the brightest pair. We tried to talk them out of it.

We kept them in sunscreen so there was no burning. But we had to load them up on waters. Dehydration can sneak up on you! You can get free cups and ice (and sometimes ice water) from any stand that serves fountain drinks. If they can't give you water they will point out the nearest water fountain and still provide you with a cup and ice.

We try to take a pause for about 16 oz of water every 2 hours. And if someone in our group hasn't used the potty in 2 hours then we take a longer break to rehydrate. Dehydration absolutely something that can ruin your trip. And heads up, if you have a headache you can't explain then chances are you need some water!

Ps - did you get a nasty sunburn? Looking for relief? Willing to try something nutty? Cold full fat yogurt. Don't get a weird fruit flavor (though honey won't hurt). Sit in an empty tub, slather (and I do mean slather) it on the burned areas, and sit for 15 minutes. Then shower off. It sounds weird but also try to keep soap off the burned areas. The soap is drying and tends to clean that skin too well. Give it a break for at least the night. And slather on that aleo gel after your shower. You can keep it chilled too for some instant relief.

Martha wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 15:47:

Martha's picture

If you do get burnt, shower with a washcloth(I use a brush) & soap. Scrub the burnt parts ... It will hurt while you are doing it! But you will feel better afterwards. You will be able to sleep.

BarbaraB wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 16:10:

BarbaraB's picture

I would rather be pasty white than have to deal with skin cancer again! Believe me...it's not fun. Any color change, even tanning, is damaging to your skin. So even if you always tan and never burn, you should still wear sunscreen.

And thank you for the tops of ears, feet & chin reminder! These areas are often overlooked and burn very easily.

Dawn Hewitt wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 16:39:

Dawn Hewitt's picture

I've had both sunburn and heat rash while in Disney. I always carry a box of baking soda with me each trip. After showering I rub it on my wet skin and it takes the sting away and doesn't have a lot of chemicals in it. It also helps with the heat rash and itchiness.

Marion Ringwood wrote on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 20:06:

Marion Ringwood 's picture

Don't forget the tops of your feet if you wear sandals, and also be careful of burning your scalp if your hair parts in the muffle or side (always better to wear a hat!). We just returned from WDW and hot a little color as both my husband and I are fair, and we owe it all to sunscreen and more sunscreen! Better to take the time to apply and re-apply than suffer a bad burn which could ultimately ruin the rest of your vacation.

Geordon wrote on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 01:02:

Geordon's picture

Marion, that's a great tip about the tops of your feet, as well as the top of your head. Though it's possible to sunscreen your scalp, it's much less messy to wear a wide-brim hat.

Martha, I would disagree with scrubbing soap into a sunburn. The skin is already damaged and dry, so scrubbing will only damage it more, and the soap tends to dry the skin out even more than it already is. Better to rinse with cool (ish) water until the sunburn heals. Once the redness is gone and the skin starts to peel, though, gentle scrubbing is not a bad idea. Just don't scrub too hard and expose still-healing skin.

Phil wrote on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 01:18:

Phil's picture

We're partial to the Neutrogena spray sunscreen. The spray leaves fewer missed spots and the Neutrogena brand feels silky... some others just feel icky. One catch with spray sunscreen... when you're down to near empty it's mostly propellant, not sunscreen. I discovered this on Castaway Cay. Discovered it the hard way.

Another commenter had a good point about dehydration; I've found we dehydrate rather faster at Disney World than we do at home. Drink rather more water than you would normally... not just because of higher activity, but you're likely losing more water than normal even when sitting around.

Use sunscreen and hydrate... you'll feel better and enjoy the vacation more.

Madge Van Tassle wrote on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 02:22:

Madge Van Tassle's picture

Bald heads have as much trouble under the sun.
The top of my feet are always forgotten when I apply the sun screen and I remember that night when my feet are burnt. Good article.
I burn easily, I am a redhead with freckles. As we get older we are just as susceptible.

Missy wrote on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 11:10:

Missy's picture

Don't forget the little legs and feet that stick out of the stroller!

Miss Mikki wrote on Sun, 05/25/2014 - 21:27:

Miss Mikki's picture

Ultrasun! Best suncream ever (I come out in a prickly heat rash with all other brands) available in UK at Waitrose and QVC. The glimmer factor 20 is amazing!

Jenny M wrote on Thu, 05/28/2015 - 02:35:

Jenny M's picture

I have very fair skin and often times when I was younger suffered bad sun burns - some of them 2nd degree with blisters, bruising and skin rashes (ouch!). The best advice I have ever received and something I will continue to do and share with anyone is that even better than aloe Vera for soothing burns is yogurt or sour cream. Crazy? Yes! And you will smell like a taco - but the chemicals in the dairy ease the pain of the burns while also extracting the chemicals that cause redness. It heals sun burns better than any else I have ever tried. If you're burned at WDW go grab some full fat yogurt at one of the quick service restaurants or ask for some sides of sour cream and go lay in the room for an hour. I promise your skin will thank you :)

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