The harsh Australian climate can be tough on skin in normal everyday life however spending 7 full days exposed to the elements walking the Aussie Camino presents at times extreme skincare challenges for all pilgrims.
Sun and sun protection. Whether you are heading out in the warmer or the cooler month’s sun protection is the single most imperative skincare consideration on the Aussie Camino. The best UV protection that your skin can have is sun avoidance all together however this is obviously not possible walking the Aussie Camino. Long sleeved shirts, collars, wide brimmed hats and scarfs for neck and chest shielding are vital attire for daily UV protection. Lighter cotton options for the warmer months and heavier for the colder climate. The most sophisticated sunscreens available even when applied well and regularly still can only provide 97% UV protection. In an everyday life style this is adequate, even at times of extended exposure such as beach and sport however you may be out on the road for up to 10 hours a day on the AC. Hence protective clothing is your skin’s best friend. Daily use of a good sunscreen is vital on the walk as your skin will be exposed to long periods of reflected sunlight (even under your hat), light that penetrates fabric and occasional incidental exposure. There’s more to know about sunscreen than you might think…..
1. Choose a ‘broad-spectrum ‘sunscreen. This means that the sunscreen has been formulated to filter both UV A I & II and UVB rays. UV B rays are the ones that give us ‘sunburn’ but UVA I&II penetrate deeper into the skin and don’t produce the heat reaction that we associate with sunburn but actually cause damage in the deeper layers of the skin. Not all sunscreens on the market are broad spectrum so check the label carefully.
2. SPF 30+ is important to wear when you are expecting longer periods of sun exposure. The SPF rating relates only to UV B ray protection. It is a guide only to how long you could be exposed before your skin starts to turn red indicating damage. This is generally a short time for most fair skinned people, a few minutes in fact. Calculating a safe exposure time even wearing an SPF 30+ for most of us is still only around 90 minutes.
3. Application … When, where, how much and how often??
When … First thing in the morning before you dress. Apply your sunscreen like you would a body lotion or moisturizer. Sunscreen must ‘bond’ with your skin in order for it to be effective this is why it is important to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before any UV exposure and to rub it in thoroughly. Don’t fall into the trap of applying your product sometime after you are already on the road.
Where? … Everywhere! Cover arms (especially lower arms), chest, neck (back and front), shoulders, back of hands, legs (especially behind knees and tops of feet), ears and of course face. The weather can be quite changeable on the AC so even if the morning looks cold and overcast in an hour or two you can find yourself in bright sunshine. Also the south eastern part of Australian has one of the highest UV exposure ratings in the world due to our thinner ozone coverage. Don’t use the daily temperature or even cloud cover as a guide to the skin risk as this can be highly deceptive. Also you may set out fully clothed and find yourself lightening the layers as the day goes by or even just when you are taking a rest stop.
How much? … The effectiveness of sunscreen is dose dependant. The recommended quantity of sunscreen that should be applied to adequately protect skin is 2mg/cm2 i.e. 2 milligrams of sunscreen for every cm of your skin. In simple terms this is quite a lot so be very liberal with your application and again think about applying it as though it is a body lotion.
How often? … The active ingredients in sunscreen that do the filtering are used up with the time that they are exposed to UV radiation not the time that has passed since application. A common misconception is that if you put sunscreen on several hours before exposure due to this passing of time it will have lost its potency. This is not correct. However when you are out walking the AC you need to be mindful generally, of the factors that reduce sunscreen efficacy such as perspiration, the rubbing of clothes, footwear and hats, rain and sea mist and of course the total time that your skin has been directly exposed to sun light. Reapplication of your sunscreen to openly exposed areas of skin such as face, neck, chest, hands and arms should be every 2 hours or as directed on the label.
4. Which one? … Sunscreen technology has come a long way in recent years and there are now great products available that are light and pleasant to use. Choose a formulation that is more fluid and unless you have a specific sunscreen sensitivity, a product that contains a blend of both chemical and physical filtering ingredients is best. Pharmacy or specialist brands are often superior in textural finish. Investigate formulations designed for children and also those specifically marketed for use on the face. Although these sunscreens are sometimes a little more expensive they are often more pleasant to wear, have a lower irritancy potential and will not cause acne like breakouts. All important considerations when you are walking for 7 consecutive days.
Exposure to the sun, the wind and the elements walking the AC can cause the delicate skin of the lips to become irritated. The best approach is prevention of this from day one rather than attempting repair the damage. A nourishing lip balm containing a sunscreen applied several times throughout the day will protect from the elements. Again trial your product before setting off as occasionally some ingredients can cause allergic irritation in certain individuals. Yes …. even the boys should be attending to this.
Dehydration and dryness
The first 4 days of the AC are spent walking along some very spectacular and beautiful coastline. Whilst this is very nourishing for the senses and the soul the low humidity dry coastal winds whether warm or cold can be extremely drying to skin. The best remedy for this once again is prevention. Daily application of a moisturiser to exposed skin areas under your chosen sunscreen can combat this. If you normally have an oilier skin a lightweight hydrating fluid is ideal. A dryer skin may need something heavier, even the use of a richer cream that may normally be marketed for the night can be ideal. Showering at night you may find that a gentle milk style cleanser is more supportive of pilgrim skin dehydration than harsher wash cleansers and a hydrating moisturiser at night is a great restorative measure (again even for the boys).
Heat and irritation
Heat whether body heat or sun induced heat can occasionally cause an irritated dermatitis commonly known as heat rash. Some times this will present as a hot itchy raised bumpy rash and sometimes as hives. It can occur on any part of the body but is most common on the trunk, chest and neck. These irritations can be caused and exacerbated by the combination of UV exposure and various cosmetic products, essential oils or fragrances. It is important to avoid wearing perfumed products of any kind on skin which may be exposed to sun. If you do have a heat reaction firstly assess whether something that you have applied could be causing this reaction. Products that you might wear in everyday life without concern can sometimes become irritants with longer periods of UV exposure.
Reduce the heat of the area if possible. Change into a lighter weight clothing option (preferably cotton) or drape the area in a cotton scarf (neck/chest) rather than a high collar. When you get in that night have a cooler shower and apply some cold compresses (not ice) to the area. Apply aloe vera gel liberally a couple of times before bed. Avoid all other products. If the irritation persists an anti-histamine such as over the counter pharmacy hay fever medication taken at night can help. Only take this in the evening as some medications can induce drowsiness. Refer to the pharmacist or product labelling. The next day avoid any direct sun exposure.
Skin irritation and Chaffing
One of the most common skin ailments on the Aussie Camino is skin irritation caused by chaffing. This occurs due to friction caused by the rubbing of two surfaces, either skin and skin or skin and clothing. Once again this can be best avoided by trialling your clothing and equipment well before you go. Wear all your intended Camino clothing during a long training session of at least several hours and critically assess the comfort.
Underwear is one of the worst culprits in this area. Often even your most comfortable ‘undies’ can give you grief. A fellow pilgrim suffered with terrible irritation under her arms from the rubbing of a bra seam. She understandably chose to pack her sports bra for the journey believing that it would be the most comfortable, only to discover that it was quite the opposite over long distances. Even if you are packing light bring a couple of different ‘style’ options. Cotton or ‘tech’sports and outdoor clothing can also help to manage perspiration dampness which contributes to chaffing.
Several of the men on the Camino recommend wearing ‘skins’. These fit snuggly to the ‘private parts’ and prevent chaffing between undies/thighs and as one of my favourite pilgrims referred to as the ‘jewels’. They are also good at perspiration absorption. ‘Skins’ are available in long and short options (like bike shorts) from most sportswear stores.
How to treat skin irritation from chaffing:
1. Remove the offending item as soon as you can if possible.
2. When you get to the end of the walking day avoid wearing any clothes that irritate this area and apply a cool compress.
3. Liberally apply some Paw Paw ointment to the area. If possible reapply a couple of times before bed.
4. The next day, avoid wearing the offending article and cover the area with a dressing if possible to prevent further irritation. The best dressings are the clear ‘Gladwrap like’ films that you can buy from the pharmacy. They are very thin and act like second skins without causing new irritation to another area. Your skin needs to be clean and dry before application and they are designed to remain on the area for several days or until they come away naturally. This gives the skin time to heal underneath without being disturbed.
The resident foot specialist has covered foot care on the Aussie Camino well. Refer to the ‘Blisters and Foot care’ section. Just a couple of added tips ….
- For the gals … refrain from having a pedicure before you set out. Trimmed neat toe nails are important but a little callous will help protect your feet for the road ahead.
- Change your socks after airing your feet for a good 20 minutes at lunch time. They will love you for this.
- Urea base foot creams are the most effective for use leading up to the Camino. These creams will heal cracks and condition the skin so that it is very well hydrated and therefore very durable. Callous is fine for walking but any dryness in the skin creates fragility. A well-known brand Eulactol is an example of a medicinal foot cream.
- Hot spots .. As soon as you feel any area of rubbing or heat stop and attend to it immediately. There are many opinions on the best blister products however my personal favourite are blister packs. These silicone gel sticky padded dressings both cover protect and pad the irritated area prevent a blister forming. They are a little more costly than tape etc. but well worth it. The number one motto about blisters is …. Avoid getting one at all !!
Cosmetics and Makeup (for the gals)
It is best to keep your skincare cosmetic regime to a simple minimum on the AC not only for the benefit of travelling light but also to avoid unexpected skin irritation. Some cosmetic products particularly heavily perfumed varieties or very active skincare ranges (e.g. cosmeceuticals) are not appropriate for use when your skin may be exposed to harsher climates and longer periods of UV. Avoid excessively perfumed products and those containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or retinols (Vitamin A). Choose gentle cleansing options that do not exfoliate. Moisturisers containing hydrating formulas are best for use under your sunscreen rather than heavier occlusive varieties.
Makeup … It is difficult to wear make-up walking on the AC. Hats, perspiration, reapplication of sunscreen, mist and sea spray can often leave even the most glamorous pilgrim looking dishevelled in a short while walking the track. Even light tinted moisturizers can end up looking worse for wear. If initially your appearance is important a great eyebrow shape and tinted lashes and brows are the best option. A light coat artificial tan for the face and a water proof mascara is really all that you will want to wear. You may even find that as the journey progresses such things become less important along the way.
Skin first aid and repair (for when there’s been an oopsy)
Sunburn. Aim for avoidance but if it happens … that night when you get in try to have a cool shower, avoid locking in the heat with occlusive clothing and apply cold compresses (not ice). Apply aloe vera gel to the area liberally a few times before bed. The next day and for the following 72 hours you must avoid any exposure of the area to UV. This means total cover up with hat, scarf shirt etc. or even a day off the track if needed. When you can, on rest breaks sitting in the shade allow the area to cool and apply more aloe vera gel. After the heat has subsided (usually about 24 hours) apply a light hydrating moisturiser to the area regularly and of course, as your mum always told you don’t pick at any peeling skin.
Trial your pilgrimage skincare well before you set off.
The importance of testing out your gear before you start the Aussie Camino cannot be emphasised enough, just as you would trial your footwear, pack and clothing it is important to trial your skin preparations well before you set off. The last thing that you want to discover a few hours into the walk on the first day is that your new sunscreen runs into your eyes or that new lip balm actually irritates your lips. Once you have sourced your skincare survival pack products wear them on your training walks with the rest of your gear. If possible, trial the wearing of your skincare for a few days (consecutively if you can) and in a similar climate to that which you are going to walk in. Skin and skincare behave differently in different temperatures, humidity and climactic conditions.
Skincare survival kit for the journey
• Broad spectrum 30+ sunscreen. Light texture. A larger option for your luggage to apply each morning and a small option to go in your day pack (possibly a face formulation product).
• Aloe Vera gel
• Lip balm with sunscreen
• Hydrating facial moisturiser
• Gentle cleansing product, possibly a milk or lotion
• Face washer in a plastic zip locked bag
• Paw Paw balm/ointment
• Clear film dressings. Pharmacy available. They are like a second skin.
• Silicone gel blister packs
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