Saturday, February 24, 2018

Look Out for Your Eyes and Skin

August 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


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We enjoy being out on the water and basking in the sun. It’s relaxing, it’s invigorating, but it’s also potentially harmful to our health and our eyesight. Take the proper precautions, however, and you’ll stay shipshape.

We all know the boaters who cultivate a golden-hued tan, chortling, “We don’t worry about the sun — we’re protected.” They are wrong, says New York City dermatologist Dr. Robert Warner. “This is not the time to let your guard down,” he warns, noting that the human body’s accumulated ultraviolet rays from the sun are the prime source of melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

“Everyone is subject to skin cancer, especially on the face, but some are more susceptible than others,” notes Dr. Warner, a member of the faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It is a matter of genes, the environment, and exposure to the sun.”

Those most vulnerable are those classified as Type I:  pale-skinned people with blond or red hair, blue eyes and freckles, especially those of Northern European heritage — those who always burn and never tan. Those who fall into Type II (green or hazel eyes and usually burn but tan minimally) through Type VI (dark brown to black skin) are still vulnerable to melanoma, which means the entire boating public is at risk if they don’t take defensive measures to block the sun.

The most dangerous hours are between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, but boaters should stay on guard at all times, as the water intensify the sun’s rays. Wear a hat and long sleeves while out on the water — better yet, wear clothing treated with Ultraviolet Protection Facto for added sun protection. White zinc oxide ointment, which you see on the noses, ears, cheeks, and lips of lifeguards, is the most effective sunblock (clear zinc oxide is less effective). There are many lotions and creams on the commercial market rated from SPF 10 to 100, although Dr. Warner says their effectiveness levels off at 50. Self-tanning gels offer zero protection — they are a cosmetic and not a sunscreen.

What about tanning salons in the off-season? Dr. Warner, who has 34 years of medical practice experience, says they are “terrible.” He and most of his colleagues would like to ban them. “Why would you artificially introduce a cancer forming procedure?” he wonders.

Among boaters’ most precious aids to boating safely and navigation are their eyes. Good vision is required for vital tasks such as spotting buoys and reading their numbers, assessing clouds, analyzing breaking waves, avoiding heavy traffic, and plotting charts.

The marine environment is harsh on eyes. Cancer-causing ultraviolet rays hit eyes both directly and after bouncing off the water, winds are drying, salt spray is stinging, squinting leads to headaches, and constant vigilance creates eye fatigue.

Eyes of every color are very sensitive to the opportunistic rays of the sun that can cause ocular cancer. Dr. Brian Marr, a board certified ophthalmologist at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is recognized as a world-renowned specialist in treating eye cancer, and he says ocular cancer is very difficult to treat and hinders your sight during recuperation.

The best protection for boaters’ eyes, says Dr. Marr, is sunglasses. He always wears them when he’s boating and urges others to do the same. He prefers polarized wraparounds that can be worn standalone or over your regular glasses or contact lenses. Polarized lenses help reduce surface glare and aid in visualization of objects in and under the water. An amber tint affords better contrast than plain gray.

Dr. Marr insists, “Price doesn’t make much difference.” He says inexpensive glasses may be fine as long as they block ultraviolet light and fit comfortably. However, a low price may indicate a lack of durability; Dr. Marr advises boaters to look for polycarbonate lenses that are shatterproof or opt for scratch-resistant glass lenses (fewer scratches mean more clarity). To ensure you’re wearing the most protective lenses surrounded by frames that fit correctly, it’s best to visit an optometrist.

What else can you do to protect your vision? When you apply sunblock to your body and face, be sure to rub some over your vulnerable eyelids (some brands are formulated for faces and/or sensitive skin). Bring over-the-counter eye drops with you when you boat and use as directed. Finally, don’t rub your eyes with your hands if they itch — you can cause damage by repeatedly pushing a foreign particle into your eye.

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.


Learn more about skin types and risks

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