Growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, my friends and I would start off each summer’s quest for a tan by heading to the beach to lay down a good “base coat”—or what doctors like to call a second-degree burn. I had so many sunburns by the time I graduated high school I can’t even count them. We didn’t use high-factor SPF sun protectants; we used cocoa butter and tanning oil to really soak up those UV rays. Then someone went and discovered that, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, having even one severe sunburn as a child doubles your risk of developing melanoma as an adult.
Now you tell me.
I travel frequently and like to explore the outdoors wherever I go—swimming in Phuket, scuba in the Great Barrier Reef, early morning walks beside the Huangpu River on the Bund in Shanghai. At home in the States I dig biking and body surfing. I love doing the morning crossword puzzle sitting by my backyard pond. I even enjoy weeding my lawn. The point is, I’m outside a lot, and I can’t afford to get sunburned again. That’s why I was especially glad about a recent unplanned meeting with an acquaintance in the green room at CNN.
I was there to tape a travel segment on hotel discounts, she was there promoting a new product introduced this spring called UVSunSense—ultraviolet warning wristbands—and she gave me some samples. Now, as we enter the hottest and sunniest months of summer, they’re worth looking into.
Here’s how they work: You place one of the bands on your wrist, then apply sunscreen to your skin and to the band. When the band is exposed to sunlight it immediately turns purple. As the strength of your sunscreen wanes, so does the purple coloring. When it is a light pink, it’s time to reapply your sunscreen. Later, when the band turns a pale yellow, it’s bye-bye Mr. Sun, hello Mrs. A.C., time to go inside. It takes the guesswork out of knowing when to reapply sunscreen, which I always forget to do, and when to call it a day.
You can find out more at the company’s website, including where to buy the bands. But whatever else you do, follow some commonsense rules whenever you’ll be out in the sun this summer: use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), wear a wide-brim hat (baseball caps don’t protect your ears or neck), and don’t overdo it.
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also Travel + Leisure's international editor.