Photo By: Courtesy of Dr. Patricia Wong
Pilot Peter Vilkin of Palo Alto prepares to apply sunscreen before a flight to protect his skin from UVA radiation.
With summer just around the corner, many people are planning vacations. Traveling involves risk-taking, especially when it comes to keeping skin healthy.
Following are a few suggestions for maintaining your skin’s health while on the road.
Before you board
• Removing your shoes and standing barefoot on the airport floor when going through the security check is not a good idea from a hygienic standpoint. I am convinced that the floors are contaminated with billions of microscopic human papilloma viruses shed from the skin of millions of travelers who have also walked barefoot in those areas. This can manifest later as warts on the bottom of your feet. Plantar warts can be very stubborn and difficult to remedy, requiring multiple treatments.
The easy solution is to wear socks when walking on the dirty airport floor.
Walking barefoot in a hotel room, bathroom or pool area is also a potential source for inoculating your feet with wart virus. I bring flip-flops to wear when traveling.
• Apply sunscreen before boarding an airplane, even if you are not in the cockpit. If you prefer the window seat, be aware that ultraviolet A radiation from the sun passes through the windows and can cause cancer, brown discoloration of the skin and wrinkling. This is the same UVA used in tanning salons.
• Free hotel toiletries can irritate the skin or cause contact dermatitis, particularly in those with sensitive skin. Perfumed soaps can aggravate eczema, prompting itching and rashes. Alkaline soaps can dissolve the skin’s natural lipid layer and protective acid mantle, resulting in dryness and irritation.
Bring your own skin-care products when traveling. Purchase small containers to store manageable amounts of your products. Although the pretty soaps, shampoos and lotions are tempting, they are not worth using if your skin becomes irritated, and it can take weeks to repair the damage.
Up in the air
• The air on an airplane has low humidity that contributes to the drying of the skin. Moisturizing well and drinking plenty of water before and during the flight can help.
I carry a small tube of moisturizer to apply several times during long flights to minimize evaporation of the skin’s water supply.
• Thrombophlebitis, which occurs when a blood clot causes inflammation of a vein in the legs, is a potential risk when flying, especially on long overseas flights. A pulmonary embolism – blood clot in the lungs – may be fatal if not diagnosed promptly and treated. Hospitalization is necessary.
Prolonged inactivity will cause blood to pool in the deep veins of the legs and increase the risk of clot formation. Symptoms of deep venous thrombosis include leg pain or soreness, swelling, feeling a hard cord in the calf and more noticeable or larger leg veins.
Wearing compression stockings can help. I request an aisle seat to make it easier to walk around during the flight. It may be worth paying the extra charge for seats that offer an extra 5-6 inches of legroom.
Simply stretching your legs and flexing your leg muscles can help enormously to prevent deep venous thrombosis.
Take an aspirin before flying (if you don’t have a medical condition that would be a contraindication – check with your doctor first if in doubt). Aspirin makes your platelets less sticky, so blood will not clot as easily.
• The airlines do not clean the plane’s tray tables, armrests, bathrooms and seat buckles. These items are wonderful transmitters for infection. It’s impossible to avoid touching them, but there are measures to minimize infection.
Bring a small plastic Ziploc bag with antibacterial wipes or alcohol pads to wipe down the areas before contact. If you do touch these items, do not subsequently touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth.
Dr. Patricia Wong is a dermatologist in private practice in Palo Alto. For more information, call 473-3173 or visit www.patriciawongmd.com.