With more people hitting the island’s beaches, Peter Davis, chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, talks about the importance of sunscreen.

Q: It’s the season when health care providers begin to remind us about the importance of using sunscreen.

It seems like lifeguards should be experts on this. What does the Beach Patrol use or recommend? Any advice on how often to apply sunscreen?

A: Before you leave the house, several times a day, and anytime 

you get out of the water.

You can’t use too much. Also, recent research indicates that it’s better to cover up with clothing with a high SPF rating or use opaque products (like zinc-based creams).

Newer research is showing that products that keep skin from getting burned don’t necessarily prevent the damage that can lead to melanoma.

Better to not get the sun at all if possible — or at least minimize it.


Q: What else do lifeguards do to keep healthy with all the sun and heat?

A: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you spend the day outside, a gallon of water with additional beverages with electrolytes per day minimum. More if you work out.

Don’t wait till you’re thirsty. Don’t let yourself become a victim of cumulative dehydration over a several-day period.

Also don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with a high UVA/UVB rating. Polarized lenses don’t block the sun but do minimize eye fatigue. They allow guards to see better when there’s glare on the water.

My first week on the job I didn’t wear sunglasses, got retina burn and had to stay inside for three days. Never made that mistake again.

Another common mistake is that people with darker skin often think they don’t need to take precautions and can’t get burned. Not true.

As someone who has spent his life in the sun and just had a melanoma removed, I can say that being tan is no longer cool.

You notice the younger generation of surfers, paddlers, kiteboarders, etc. are way more careful about not getting too much sun exposure while still getting out there and doing what they love.


Q: What about children? It’s really heartbreaking to see a badly sunburned child. Any recommendations there?


A: Same principle as adults, but kids often are having so much fun they don’t notice they’re getting burned. They also can have more sensitive skin so they need extra protection.


Q: And, if all fails and you do get burned, what do you lifeguards use?

A: I use aloe plants from my yard or an aloe-based product. Anything that keeps your skin moist is helpful and minimizes peeling, which can then lead to more burning. Creams with topical anesthetic help with the pain as well.

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