Tourist Tip #268 / The Sun in Israel, Your Frenemy

Some come here to worship at holy sites, others come to worship rays at the beach. If you're of the latter religion, be sure to follow these protective rituals.

Many tourists come to Israel for its unique history. Not only is Israel the birthplace of three great world religions, but it's also the land-bridge between Africa and Europe. Yet many more come just for the sun.

From spring to fall, native Israelis tend to avoid their famous sun and seek shelter in air-conditioned hollows. Tourists on the other hand come specifically to thaw their frozen bones from the long winter and fill their batteries with vitamin D. But they may not realize what Israelis are taught from kindergarten on: the sun can also be very dangerous. It needs respect.

Even a single hour's exposure during peak hours can cause a bad burn, not to mention dehydration and headache, especially among the fair of skin. (Prolonged over-exposure over years can cause premature aging of the skin and cancers.)

Here are a few tips on how to enjoy the Israeli sun. Israelis are taught these things before they can walk, though they don't always follow the sage advice. But here goes:

Try to avoid baking yourself in direct sun during peak hours, from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. If you must be on the beach during those hours, try to stay in the shade.

Sun-friendly garb: A broad-rimmed hat or at least a baseball cap to protect your face is recommended during peak hours. So are long sleeves and trousers that reach your feet; you may be less dismayed by tomato-colored arms and legs than a bright red peeling face but health-wise there's no difference.

Sun block: You definitely want to apply sun block cream or spray before you expose yourself to the sun, and re-apply after a couple of hours or after sweating heavily. As for the SPF – sun protection factor – the higher the better, up to a certain point. Many experts claim there's no reason to buy a cream with SPF higher than 30: it costs more and adds no value. What you do want to look for is a cream that provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection (against hazardous ultraviolet spectra) that will stay on when you swim.

Sunglasses: Sleek sun shades are quite the norm in the bright Israeli sun and you'd best get a good pair that protects your peepers from the dangerous rays, and the delicate skin surrounding them.

Water: Don’t get dehydrated; it'll ruin your day. Some experts suggest that you should drink at least two liters of water when indulging in outdoor activity during the Israeli summer, or even more if you're sweating.

Now, do keep in mind that outdoor activity, swimming and sun are all good things, as is the vitamin D that your body can only make when exposed to sunshine. You just need to do it right. And if one of your goals is to go home gorgeously bronzed, well, build up that tan gradually and carefully. Don't head for the beach and lie there oiled up to the hairline for hours on end. You're more likely to get a visit to the emergency room than the summer glow you wanted.

Tali Meir