Divers should make use of sunscreens to avoid getting skin cancer. Ten basic tips are discussed that divers should be aware of to avoid sunburn.

Here are some sobering facts. This year medical doctors will diagnose an estimated one million cases of skin cancer. And, 75 percent of these cancers will appear on the face, neck, back of the hands and other areas that suffer prolonged exposure to sunlight. Even a moderate tan is now regarded as evidence of sun damage.

The rules for an outdoor lifestyle and sports have been turned upside down. Tan is bad; white is healthy. Suntan oils and lotions are out; sunscreens are in.

What the national statistics don’t reveal is that traveling divers are extremely vulnerable to sun damage because they visit tropical destinations where the sun’s rays are the strongest. Here are ten of the most important tips for avoiding sunburn while diving:

1 GET YOUR SUNSCREEN PRIOR TO DEPARTURE: The best place to obtain the most effective sunscreen is in your home town, where you are likely to find the largest selection at the best prices. Buy several containers and pack them in various parts of your luggage – dive gear bag, shave kit or cosmetic case, carry-on bag, etc.

2 SELECT A SUNSCREEN THAT BLOCKS UVA AND UVB: New sunscreen formulas block both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. UVB causes painful sunburn and increases the risk of cancer. UVA disrupts the body’s immune system defenses, also contributing to the risk of cancer. You need protection from both.

3 SELECT A HIGH SPF NUMBER: The sun protection factor on the sunscreen label indicates the protection strength. Most experts recommend a sunscreen rated at SPF 10 or 15 for normal outdoor activities. Divers need a higher strength because they are exposed to a double dose of sunlight – rays coming directly from the sun, plus rays reflected off the surface of the water, beach or white deck of a boat. A sunscreen rated at SPF 25 to 45 is much better for divers.

4 SELECT A WATER RESISTANT SUNSCREEN: Sunscreen manufacturers are now producing a number of brands that they describe as “waterproof” or “water resistant.” While no sunscreen is totally waterproof from prolonged submersion in the ocean, water resistant formulas are helpful. They stay on longer and require less frequent application.

5 APPLY SUNSCREEN EARLY IN THE DAY: Get into the habit of applying sunscreen first thing in the morning. Keep a container on the bathroom counter as a reminder. Apply your first coating after you shower or wash your face. Early application allows the sunscreen to be absorbed into your skin for better protection.

6 APPLY TO MORE THAN JUST YOUR FACE AND NECK: You will be amazed to learn where you can be sunburned. Be sure to thoroughly apply sunscreen to your scalp, tips of your ears, tip of your nose, lower lip, tops of your feet, backs of your hands, arms, legs and so on. Complete coverage is the key to avoiding sun damage.

7 WEAR A HAT: When going on the dive boat, bring a broad brimmed hat. It will protect you from direct sun rays, as well as preventing ocean spray or rain from washing the sunscreen off your face and scalp. A hat will also protect your hair from sun damage. Select a hat that is lightweight, well ventilated and easy to pack.

8 USE SUNSCREEN ALL THE TIME: Don’t be fooled by overcast skies or cloudy days. Ultraviolet radiation can penetrate clouds and still cause sun damage. Ultraviolet radiation is invisible and you cannot accurately gauge the damage being done until it is much too late. The cooling effects of water, an ocean breeze or a fast moving boat can be deceptive.

9 WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING: Don’t depend solely on sunscreen. If you sunburn easily or find that you must travel on a dive boat that has no shade, put on your dive suit before leaving the dock. A Lycra diveskin is cool enough to wear out of the water, yet helps protect your skin from severe sun exposure. Remember that you are diving in the tropics, where the sun is closest to the earth’s surface and the sun’s rays are the strongest.

10 STAY IN THE SHADE: Whether you are on the dive boat or on shore, seek a shady place where you can stay out of the direct rays of the sun. Your sunscreen can wash off without you realizing it. A day aboard a dive boat can subject your body to a brutal combination of wind, saltwater spray and perspiration. Reapply sunscreen frequently during the day to replace the coatings that have washed away.

While there are many more things you can do to avoid or prevent sunburn, these ten tips will help to keep you out of trouble. Learn to stop the burn!

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