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Most people that grow up in Southern California (SoCal) &/or Arizona bask in the sunlight. It’s one of the reasons they live there! They’re often purposely avoiding the rain of the northwest, or the snow of the midwest, or the humidity of the southeast, by living where they do. From the beach to golfing, amusement parks, water parks, and everything in between, there is no shortage of outdoor activities & ways to soak up the sun. For others, particularly those of us that have a sensitivity to sunlight, outdoor activities can be problematic.
Having only lived in SoCal and Arizona my entire life, there has never been a shortage of weather reports forecasting sunny skies. Rainy days actually make me happy, at least in part because they’re so few and far between. Almost a decade ago, however, I started liking dark, rainy days for another reason. They (at least partially) hid the sun. One April, on a sunny day in the middle of my first pregnancy, I went on some mid-day errands. A few hours later, after I’d been back home for awhile, my arms began to itch fiercely. There was (and never is) no “rash” or other visible sign of the allergy. So, I had no idea why it was happening, and the sensation eventually went away as the evening went on.
Later that month, we went on vacation to a place that is practically sunny 24/7. Almost immediately, I began to have the fierce itch on my arms again. It became apparent very quickly that the cause was sun exposure. Was I wearing sunscreen? Yes! Did it seem to matter? No! The solution seemed to be that I needed to actually cover my skin & avoid exposure to the sun. How is this even possible in a beachy locale?!?!? I hadn’t packed any long-sleeved shirts or pants, really, because who wears things like that at the beach & in warm temperatures? We went shopping and found the most lightweight long-sleeved hoodie that was available, which wasn’t very lightweight at all. The tradeoff, however, was the fierce itch, and that wasn’t an option for me.
While still on vacation, I began researching other solutions. Thankfully, I found Coolibar. Cooli-what? Coolibar! Their tagline is “Sun Protection You Wear.” Well, that’s exactly what I needed. I purchased a lightweight sun protection zip-front jacket with a hood that I still wear to this day. It’s the most lightweight piece of clothing ever. Coolibar no longer makes that exact product, but this Packable Sunblock Jacket is very similar.
We had hoped that, after delivering our baby and my body returning back to normal, the sun sensitivity might resolve itself. At times, it seemed as though the problem actually had gone away. I would go to the store in the middle of the day wearing short sleeves, and the itching would never happen. But then, at another point in time, I would do the exact same thing with an altogether different outcome…the fierce itch on my arms! Several years ago, my husband developed a theory that seems to be more than just speculation now. He noticed that I generally wouldn’t have a problem in the fall & winter months, but when spring & summer rolled around (& the angle of the sun is more direct), the sun allergy and photo sensitivity would return.
How can one survive outdoors with sun sensitivity?
If there’s a way to avoid sun exposure, that’s the route I take. Most of the time, however, that’s not entirely possible. Whether you have the same (or similar) issue, or whether you just want to limit the sun’s rays on your skin, here are some survival tips that have helped me and can help you as well!
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #1 – Hats
The sun hat that I purchased specifically for our trip to Southeast Asia was the Duluth Trading Co. Armachillo Wide Brim Hat. Yes, it’s technically a men’s hat. However, one of my qualifications for a hat is that it doesn’t totally smoosh my curly hair. I was able to get the Armachillo Wide Brim Hat in a very large size (due to it being a men’s hat), and so it both shaded me from the sun & kept my hat head to a minimum.
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #2 – Shirts, Sleeves, Gloves
The best way for me to cover neck, arms, and hands is to wear a collared long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Both L.L.Bean and Columbia have some very lightweight, breathable long-sleeved button-down shirts. The Columbia shirts, especially, have a very flattering fit. They also have an extended cuff that covers a bit of the hand. Both brands provide a way to roll-up and fasten the sleeves when indoors or when the sun has gone down.
Columbia Women’s Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt, Black (works very well for dressy casual)
Columbia makes this shirt in many other colors as well, to fit your personal style.
L.L.Bean Misses’ Tropicwear Shirt, Long-Sleeve (also available in several colors)
If you want to wear a short-sleeved shirt without a jacket over it, try these Coolibar Sun Sleeves.
As for protecting hands, I have several pairs of Solfingers SolFingerless Gloves, as well as one pair of Solfingers SolSleeves, that I’ve worn over the years. More recently, I also purchased these Fingerless UV Protection Gloves in a couple different colors. I wear gloves when I’m driving and when I’m outdoors for a prolonged period of time.
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #3 – Pants
L.L.Bean Comfort Trail Pants – These pants are not only comfortable…they are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking. UV protection is also there, as well as a bunch of pockets! They are available in several neutral colors, and I must admit, I have several pairs and wear them almost every time I go out.
These Coolibar Beach Pants are also very comfortable & protect from the sun.
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #4 – Socks & Shoes
I don’t have a specific preferred brand for this tip. The key here is to make sure your feet and ankles are completely covered, one way or another!
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #5 – Sunscreen for Face, Neck, Ears, & Lips
After utilizing all of the items above, the only areas of skin that are still exposed are my face, neck, & ears. Thankfully, these areas can be somewhat exposed to the sun & not have the allergic reaction. However, they still need to be protected from the sun.
For lips, I use AloeSense Lip Balm.
Sun Sensitive Survival Tip #6 – Shade
If you know you’re going to be outside and staying in one place for awhile, consider bringing your own shade.
We have an E-Z Up Dome II canopy. The newer version can be seen HERE. It has served us well in many different situations…soccer games, picnics, beach days, outdoor parties, and the list goes on.
For even more sun protection under the canopy, we have this Canopy Sidewall as well.
At times when the E-Z Up isn’t practical for the given situation, I’ve used a Golf Umbrella for additional shade.
Again, it is important for me to have as much skin covered up at all times. When I’m not as careful & I fail to wear gloves during prolonged sun exposure, my hands & wrists bear the brunt of my mistake. The other common problem I have is wearing Capri pants & sandals, instead of long pants & closed toe shoes. When that happens, my ankles & feet bear the brunt of my mistake.
So, when we have triple-digit temperatures in the summer & I’m walking around with long sleeves, pants, & closed toe shoes, I do get some funny looks. But, that’s better than dealing with the fierce itching effects of the sun allergy.
And, I must say, with all the covering up, Native deodorant is imperative!
Over the years, covering up from the sun has become part of my everyday life. While I try to limit my sun exposure as much as possible, sometimes it just can’t be done, and I participate as many activities as I can. We were fortunate to travel to Southeast Asia earlier this year…practically on the equator…hot & humid & sunny most of the time. By using the survival tips listed above, we had a wonderful trip, and I can’t wait to go back again!
I hope these survival tips are helplful for you! Also read my Sun Sensitive Survival Guide: Swimwear!
Have you dealt with sun sensitivity? If so, what are your survival tips?