I am very fair skinned. So painfully white that before I came to Costa Rica I was a bit translucent. It never occurred to me that this might be a problem when I came until one of my friends jokingly asked me if I needed anything for Costa Rica, like sunscreen with SPF 200. So I made sure to pack some sunscreen, SPF 30, and thought nothing else of it.
My first week and a half of being in Costa Rica I wasn’t really in the sun that much. I visited some of my uncle’s family in the mountains and moved in with my host mom. I went to school and came home. San Jose was cloudy and I only got a little pink on my face. I wasn’t going to have a problem, right?
The first weekend trip for me was organized through the school to Tamarindo. I put on sunscreen before I went to the beach like I was supposed to and reapplied casually on the first day, maybe twice and even then I wasn´t through. I definitely got some sun but nothing worse than I had ever gotten back home. I put on some aloe and went out dancing with my friends.
The next day I put on my sunscreen again and went surfing. We were only at the beach for three hours so I didn’t see the point in reapplying because it would mean losing precious time learning to surf. So I didn´t. I had burned. But I didn’t realize how bad until I got home. My roomates winced as they saw how terribly burned my back had become. In fact the aloe they put on it stung a little, but by Tuesday morning, I swore I was on the mend. My burn didn´t hurt so bad and I didn’t need to put aloe on it to throw on a shirt.
The day went by without a hitch. Spanish went smoothly and I had a delightfully delicious and cheap lunch. I went to my Latin American History class and conversed with my classmates making jokes and comparing weekend experiences. Then my back began to itch. Like really bad. And I couldn’t seem to get the itching under control. So I excused myself to the bathroom to see what the heck was going on. I tried putting water on my back to see if that would help, but it only exasperated the problem and now my back itched and burned. I was freaking out. I thought I must be having an allergic reaction to the detergent. So I ran home and choking back tears took a benadryl. I then took a shower which seemed to ease the burn and itch and waited for the benadryl to kick in.
5 minutes. 10 minutes. I took some tylenol. 20 minutes. Clearly this was not an allergic reaction to detergent. The shirt I had been wearing hadn’t even been washed yet. I was shaking and scream crying and it was only worse. My host mom was gone until later that night, so I called my 2 housemates via a nifty facebook feature and begged them to come home. I sat cowering in the bathroom with a wet towel on my back until they came home. While they couldn’t take the pain away they did take care of me rinsing out the towel when it became too hot (my back was steaming), making sure I drank fluids so I didn’t pass out, helping me to figure out what was wrong (sun poisoning) and distracting me. While aloe did help it didn’t completely help me, and anti-itch cream only made it worse. Then, one asked if she could rub plantain on my back, as she had heard once that it soothed irritated skin. It was instant relief, enough that I could sleep and let my body recover until dinner.
I looked up the information later, and while some people feel the effects of sun poisoning almost immediately, the worst symptoms can often manifest themselves anywhere from 6 to 48 hours after the damaging exposure. And plantains and bananas in general really are another way to soothe sunburned skin and help heal the damaged skin.
So I learned my lesson… and not only do I apply and reapply sunscreen now, but I stick to the shade as much as I can. I also bought a swim shirt with SPF protection and don it whenever I am worried about the burn. In addition, I truly love and appreciate bananas and plantains now and never pass up the opportunity to eat some!
Happy not to be burning at the beach!