Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (7)

"Lady mountaineers are especially concerned...."
Sun protection as modelled by Mrs Main on Piz Morteratsch, c.1880s

Alpinistic advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

The inflammation of the exposed parts of the skin consequent on the intensity of the sun's rays is a very familiar trouble. The affection is essentially the same as that experienced in milder degrees by those who work with intense electric illuminants, or are exposed much to the sun's rays reflected off water. 

In the case of arc electric lights, the direct rays set up the trouble, but on snow the rays reflected from the surface are the chief agents. A strong cold wind aggravates the trouble by producing dryness of the skin. Freshly fallen snow at great elevations is the most powerful reflector of the irritant rays. It seems probable that the effect is produced largely by the 'chemical ' rays. 

The burning is felt at the time to some extent, but the worst of the discomfort comes on after a few hours, often at night. Fair people suffer more than than the dark-complexioned. Sometimes a considerable degree of inflammation is set up. A tolerably acute condition of eczema may be produced if adequate precautions are not taken.

The cracks and blisters that ensue are not only painful, but rather unsightly, and in the Alps, at any rate, mountaineers should, from motives of regard for others' feelings if not for their own comfort, take measures to mitigate sunburn. Lady mountaineers are especially concerned, for the effects, like those of tattoo marks, may be somewhat permanent, and have to be repented of at leisure. 

A convenient and efficient application is 'Toilet Lanoline,' which can be purchased in small tubes. A little of this smeared from time to time on the parts most likely to be affected will prevent any trouble. The application should be renewed every two or three hours. Cold cream or zinc ointment is recommended by some, and answers almost as well. Glycerine is useless. 

Whatever is used should be employed as a preventive. The effect of powdering the face with starch-powder over some ointment renders the mountaineer rather like a 'Pierrot,' but is extremely efficient. Professor Mosso advises blackening the face with burnt cork. Undoubtedly a thin layer of soot is the most efficient preventive, but in the much frequented Alps the method is unlikely to meet with favour. 

Vaseline or grease will remove the burnt cork. Red veils, for the reasons already pointed out, will prove more efficient than green or blue. A very thin red veil will answer better than a thick blue one. 

The skin may be as severely burnt on a foggy, cloudy day, as when the air is clear. For, as pointed out by Professor Bonney, a very large portion of the light which reaches us does not come directly from the sun, but is reflected to us by the vapours of the atmosphere. 


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

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