Save the Coral Reef AND Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer

 

There is nothing like sailing with the wind in your hair, sea spray across your face and sun warming every inch of uncovered skin. Unfortunately, these three natural elements – wind, water and sun – cause a triple threat where healthy skin is concerned. That’s because both water and wind damage the skin’s protective barrier and sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer and skin aging. Leave it to the marriage of one of the most famous names in sailing and a dermatologist to dial in exactly how sailors can enjoy their sport and good skin health too. 

“I met my husband Peter (Harken, founder with brother Olaf of international performance sailing manufacturer, Harken Inc.) at the Milwaukee Yacht Club where I raced in Wednesday night ‘beer can’ races,” says  Edit Olasz Harken, MD PhD, a Hungarian native who grew up sailing on Lake Balaton and who today specializes in high risk skin cancer as well as manufacturers a high performance skin care line under the brand Harken Derm. “When I started to go with Peter to races, and his friends learned that I was a dermatologist, they started to show me skin lesions they were worried about. This might be on their faces or other exposed areas, but also on their bodies. So, I started to say jokingly, that at any given regatta party, sooner and later I had a ‘naked sailor’ showing his body to me.”

How to Protect Your Skin from the Sun?

The best protection against the sun’s harmful rays, says Harken, is seeking shade or wearing sun protective clothing. Since it’s often difficult to find shade on a sailboat, especially for racers while racing, and it’s not always convenient to wear a wide brimmed hat, applying sunscreen to exposed areas including the head, neck and hands is extremely important. The need to wear sunscreen is nothing new. In fact, owners of maxi yachts Harken and her husband were invited to sail on often had a big basket on sunscreens onboard. Once her profession was known, these owners asked for advice on which were best. Harken’s survey often found expired products or those with ingredients that either don’t offer sufficient protection or had ingredients that harmed coral. Thus, she found herself writing a list of recommendations that ultimately became her High Performance SPF 50 Sunscreen formula.

There are two types of active ingredients in sunscreens. One is mineral or physical fillers and the other are chemical filters. The only two mineral filters are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and they are the top two rated sunscreen filters in the world. These mineral filters reflect the full spectrum of UV light, both UVA that causes aging and UVB that burns. These are safest for skin and the environment. Chemical filters absorb only a small range of UV light, are highly reactive and can be dangerous for skin. Two chemical filters, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been banned in Hawaii due to being proven to bleach and kill coral,” she explains.

Skin care for sailors doesn’t end with the application of sunscreen. Harken learned the need to get this word out after having a conversation with Jimmy Spithill at her dining room table when the Pewaukee Yacht Club hosted its E-scow Blue Chip event and invited the 2010 America’s Cup winning skipper and helmsman for BMW Oracle Racing. Spithill confessed to Harken that since he was a red headed Australian, he knew to use sunscreen, but he wasn’t sure what was best to do once back indoors to prevent dry damaged skin.

“His question really surprised me and opened my eyes, because I thought guys didn’t care or want any creams, lotions or potions on their skin. Us dermatologists always think about daily skin care regimens as ‘morning prevention and protection’ and evening ‘repair and nourishment’. It is very important to mitigate the damage by sun by using proper antioxidants to repair the barrier damage by sun and wind by using rich lipid-laden moisturizers. That’s how the idea of the ‘Two Step Solution’ was born. The two-step solution for sun protection and skin repair includes a sunscreen that meets the highest standards of safety and performance and an antioxidant moisturizer that is designed to repair the damaged skin after sun exposure,” she says.

Finally, Harken is frequently asked about SPF or Sun Protection Factor. This represents a sunscreen’s ability to protect against burning rays, but not those that can cause skin to age prematurely. SPF 50 offers maximum protection. 

I recommend my patients to use an SPF 15 sunscreen in the winter if they work inside, SPF 30 in the summer if they are indoors and SPF50 whenever outdoors. The Food & Drug Administration guidelines recommend reapplying sunscreens every two hours. Our products offer extreme protection and we often hear that it’s difficult to take off at the end of the day. I’m actually happy to hear that. That means the sunscreen is still protective all day long,” says Harken.

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.