Sea kayak adventures – Sunburn prevention

Protecting the skin from the harmful effects of the sun is as important as it is simple – however, when kayaking, it is more important than ever because the sun is reflected directly at the face and eyes.

Kayaking through wilderness and remote coastal areas, sea kayakers should protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. Often in the spring, summer and autumn months expeditions experience calm millpond seas in hot still air under the full intensity of the sun. These conditions, when spending hours on the water, can be testing even to the hardiest of paddlers.

UV rays

Ultra Violet (UV) rays are divided into three types – UVA, UVB and UVC rays. The first two are of concern as they are both carcinogenic – thankfully the ozone layer filters the third.

UV ray exposure

Whilst skin cancer is the most common cancer form the eyes are also much at risk when exposed to prolonged periods in the sun – cataracts, pterygium (a growth invasion of the cornea) and pingueculum (yellowing of the whites of the eye) are all linked to UV ray exposure.

Body protection

If you hold your kayaking T-shirt up to the light it will give a good indication as to how protective it is against UV rays – a thicker dark T-shirt will let very little light through when compared to a thinner white T-shirt, which will virtually offer no protection at all.

The material of the garment will also affect its protective ability – synthetic fibre, a tighter weave and darker dye will all improve its protective performance. A new white cotton T-shirt for example will offer an SPF of 7 whereas a black, polypropylene, long-sleeved shirt might offer SPF many times higher. Some might say that a synthetic top is hotter but, when at sea in strong sun, it is better to be hot than it is to risk irreparable skin damage. Furthermore, it is easy to cool down with a quick splash of water to the body – evaporation is a cooling process.

Face protection

Wearing a good hat with wide rims whilst sea kayaking shields most of the face from the sun’s harmful and direct UV rays whilst a good pair of wrap around sunglasses protects the most sensitive parts of the face from reflected UV rays from the sea surface. High factor sun block should be used for other sensitive parts of the face such as lips (where the body has no melanin), nose and ears.


Sun, sea and kayakers

80% of the sun’s rays penetrate through cloud and these rays are reflected off water directly to the face. It is important for sea kayakers to take all the precautions above on a cloudy day as it is for a sunny day. Regular kayakers should check their skin regularly for sores that do not heal, moles and coloured spots with a raised edge.

Whilst the Hebrides might not be the Cote d’Azur, the sun should always be respected.

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