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Why is Sun Protection Important in The Mountains?
Have you ever forgotten to put on sunscreen while hiking or on a high-altitude tour? Then you probably know that sunburn in the mountains can happen quickly - and can sometimes be very unpleasant. But why is that? And what can I do to protect myself optimally against the sun even at altitude? Our has the most important answers about sun protection in the mountains for you.
Why is the risk of radiation damage increased in the mountains?
The rules for sun protection in the mountains are the same as in the valley. But there are other environmental conditions here that increase the risk again. On the one hand, the somewhat colder temperature at altitude means that you perceive the sun's radiation less intensively and therefore unconsciously take a higher risk. On the other hand, the radiation increases with increasing altitude (approx. four percent increase per 300 meters of altitude).
If you are also moving on a glacier or, in winter, on a snow surface, the reflection of the radiation can cause an increase of up to 100 percent. The risk of sun damage is therefore increased many times over in the mountains - and the topic of sun protection becomes all the more important.
Sun protection in summer when hiking: What do you need to watch out for?
The best protection against harmful UV radiation is to stay indoors. Of course, it's clear that this is not an acceptable solution. We love the mountains. We want to move outside in the fresh air. In addition, it is now known that a lack of sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency. According to the German Nutrition Society, the body produces around 80 to 90 percent of the important "sun vitamin" itself - through the action of UV radiation on our skin.
A little sun is therefore absolutely desirable; however, we should definitely protect ourselves from "too much" sun. This is the only way to avoid sunburns, premature skin aging and, in the worst case, skin cancer.
How to protect yourself from the sun during mountain sports:1.Wear protective clothing.
Long, tightly woven shirts and pants are best. Particularly protect the so-called "sun terraces" such as shoulders, neck or even foot surfaces (therefore, if possible, prefer to choose the closed shoe).
2.Apply good cream to uncovered areas of skin.
Which cream and which sun protection factor you choose is a very individual decision, which also has a lot to do with your skin type and how used to it you are. For the higher altitudes, however, at least SPF30 is recommended. Special attention should be paid to the transitions from bare skin to clothing, as clothing can slip during sports. And: Don't forget to reapply cream regularly!
3.Wear headgear when hiking.
In addition to a - very unpleasant - sunburn of the scalp, too much sunlight on the head can also lead to sunstroke. The consequences are dizziness, nausea, headaches, ringing in the ears and fatigue. Protect yourself with a hat or cap - preferably with a wide brim or neck protection.
4.Avoid midday sun.
Especially on clear, sunny days, it is advisable to avoid the sun altogether between 12 and 3 pm. If this is not possible (for example, on an all-day tour), plan the tour so that you spend a lot of time in the shade during this period (for example, in a forest) or at least take many shady breaks.
Sun protection in winter and on high altitude tours: How to protect yourself!
Sun protection for the mountains - also in winter or in the snow an important topic. Whether skiing or in summer on alpine tours or alpine mountain tours in the snow, adequate protection for body, face and eyes is essential in the mountains in summer and winter. This is the only way to prevent consequential damage. This is how you can protect yourself:
- Sunscreen in the high mountains or in the snow: with at least SPF 30; during sweaty activities, be sure to think about renewal; use lipstick with an appropriately high sun protection factor.
- Sports sunglasses/glacier goggles: With special lenses and, if necessary, protective shields; look out for lens category 4 - if necessary also with ski goggles!
- Clothing choice: On strenuous ski or alpine tours, you are often lighter dressed and in a T-shirt or with your sleeves rolled up during the ascent. Because of the ambient cold, you often don't notice how intense the sun's rays are. This can lead to devastating sunburns. Therefore, make sure you wear appropriate clothing (for example, with a sun protection factor) and apply sunscreen not only to your face, but also to the areas you are not wearing.
Sun protection for the eyes
Sun protection in the mountains does not only concern the skin. The eyes should also be protected from the sun, especially at high altitudes. Excessive UV radiation, which often occurs at high altitudes and is intensified by glacier and snow fields, can cause severe irritation of the eyes.
A good pair of sunglasses or glacier goggles is therefore standard equipment in the mountains, not only for mountaineers, but also for all other mountain sports enthusiasts.
What damage can solar radiation do to the body?
The negative effects of the sun are mainly triggered by the so-called UV-A and UV-B light. These differ in wavelength and effect on the body, although there is a strong overlap:
- UV-A (320-400 nm): These reach the deeper layers of the skin and are responsible for skin aging, among other things.
- UV-B (290-320 nm): These are the particularly bio-effective rays, as they can cause sunburn and severe damage to the skin. However, they are absorbed by the upper layers of the skin. They are also responsible for the production of vitamin D.
But whether damage is actually done depends on the dose (i.e. the duration and intensity of the sun's rays) and your own prerequisites (keyword: skin type). The altitude at which you are in the mountains also plays a role. The following reactions can occur in principle:
Skin aging due to sunlight
Light-induced skin aging is different from natural skin aging - even though there is a lot of overlap. This is most easily illustrated by comparing exposed skin (e.g. face/arm) with non-exposed skin (e.g. torso). The skin becomes saggy, wrinkled and develops coarser patches - in addition there are color changes and age spots.
Freckles are harmless in themselves - and yet a signal that sun protection has not worked well. They usually appear on fair-skinned children and adolescents after sunburns and are caused by the increase of melanin (pigment of the skin, which is also responsible for tanning).
Sunburn is the "acute form" of UV damage and is to be considered like a burn. The typical reddening of the skin (also called erythema) occurs a few hours after exposure and reaches its maximum after twelve to 24 hours. It usually subsides after 48 to 72 hours. However, it can take one to two weeks for a sunburn to heal completely. Typically, there is a sharply defined redness and slight swelling, but in the case of more severe sunburns, blistering also occurs and subsequently the loss of the uppermost skin layer.
Sunstroke in the mountains
Very severe sunburns can also be accompanied by fever and are then often combined with a "sunstroke", which is triggered by irritation of the meninges by rays and overheating.
Severe sunburns in the mountains
If there is a massive sunburn with blistering on a large part of the skin, this can also lead to life-threatening conditions that make in-patient treatment unavoidable. Therefore, it is essential to avoid sunburn in any case by using appropriate sun protection.
Various phenomena are summarized under this term:
- Phototoxic reaction: triggered by the interaction of an obligate phototoxic substance and sun rays. The corresponding substances are ingested e.g. through food or transferred to the skin through contact, e.g. with grasses, and in interaction with sun rays obligate (i.e. theoretically always) cause a reaction of varying severity.
- Photoallergic reaction: This is also triggered by substances that can be transferred through food or touch. However, a sensitization must have taken place beforehand - i.e. a corresponding reaction of the immune system. In addition, this reaction is not obligatory and therefore does not occur automatically - but only with a corresponding predisposition of the immune system.
- Sun allergy: In common parlance, a sun allergy is a chronic light intolerance reaction of the skin, which mainly appears in spring or after a longer period of abstinence and manifests itself in itching, redness and blisters. Unlike the above phenomena, no additional substance is needed in the body or on the skin. The allergy is only triggered by an overreaction of the immune system to light (especially UVA).
Skin cancer due to lack of sun protection on the mountain
It is common knowledge that lack of sun protection increases the risk of skin cancer. But there are many different types of skin cancer that develop differently. In the early stages, they often look very similar - but then take different courses. Therefore, regular checks are advisable for people with a corresponding risk profile in order to be able to react to suspicious skin changes at an early stage!
Summary: Why is sun protection so important in the mountains?
un protection is indispensable for the mountains. Be it sunscreen in the high mountains, headgear for hiking and mountaineering, or glacier sun protection: sunburn is highly unpleasant. Although most people are aware of the fact that other consequential damage can occur, the subject of sun protection is all too often taken lightly. It is true that not every misconduct is punished immediately. But especially for mountain athletes who are frequently outdoors and at altitude in the snow, the lifetime risk of consequential damage is not negligible.