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Pack Light and Loose for Protection From a Tropical Sun

May 21, 1989|DR. KARL NEUMANN | Neumann is a Forest Hills, N.Y., pediatrician who writes on travel-related matters

When packing for a cruise in the tropics, don't just pack for fashion. Pack for protection. The sun can do damage to skin unaccustomed to too much of it.

This is especially important in late winter and early spring when protective tans from the previous summer are gone. Then, even half an hour of morning or late-afternoon sun can result in a burn.

Sunburn is the most common condition treated by ships' physicians. This is because on a cruise, a good portion of time spent in the sun is spent near the water. Because sun reflects off water the rays can come at you from all angles, thus increasing your sun exposure. Using sunscreens and wearing sunglasses helps, as does wearing the correct clothing.

Consider the weave of the fabric and the color of the material. The garments most travelers pack, items light in color and wide in weave, often are least suitable for tropical cruises. Such fabrics do not offer adequate protection.

Dyed fabric generally blocks more ultraviolet rays than undyed, and the thicker the fabric, the better the protection.

As a test, hold garments up to a light bulb before you pack them. The more opaque the better. If the garment allows too much light through, it may permit an unhealthy amount of ultraviolet light to reach the skin, according to the University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter.

But it's not just the pain of sunburn that should be of concern. Recent research suggests that a rapidly acquired sunburn may suppress your immune system and cause skin infections or cold sores by activating latent viruses.

Tightly woven cottons offer better protection than tightly woven nylon/polyester knits. The best cottons are tightly woven blue denim, dark whipcords and other dark cottons, according to the Wellness Letter.

Such materials have a sun protection factor (SPF) of more than 1,000, allowing just 0.1% of the ultraviolet light to pass through. A loosely knitted nylon jersey has an SPF of 4 and allows 24% of the ultraviolet light through. Good sunscreens give you an SPF of at least 15.

Garments should fit loosely to allow air to circulate. This helps keep you cool. And try to stay dry. Wetness greatly decreases a fabric's ability to protect.

In addition to proper clothing, tightly-woven hats and parasols are useful. Choose a hat with a broad brim, a high dome and holes for ventilation. No need to pack these, though. They are readily available at most ports of call and generally are inexpensive.

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