Ask An Astrochemist: What Is It With All The Sunburns In Iceland?

Ask An Astrochemist: What’s With All The Sunburn In Iceland?

Ask An Astrochemist: What’s With All The Sunburn In Iceland?

Published April 19, 2018

Phil Uwe Widiger
Photos by
Courtesy of Helgi Rafn Hróðmarsson
Julia Staples

Did you ever wonder why, after hiking in Iceland, you wake up the next day with a red nose, shoulder or other body parts? Somehow, nasty sunburn seems to occur faster than in other European countries, often carrying an unpleasant itch. We asked Helgi Rafn Hróðmarsson, aka The Cosmic Chemist, why the sun in Iceland seems to be so fatal.

“Briefly, this can vary greatly from person to person because your skin type plays a major role. Whether the skin is oily, dry, fine, or if you’re touched by fire, your proneness to sunburns varies.
The second point you need to consider is the climate. In colder climates where the air is drier, the skin is more easily dehumidified which in case of sunburn could lead to more itchy burn effects.”

But is the impact of the sun stronger in Iceland than in mainland Europe?

“In humid climates, you feel hotter because water is a very effective vessel for transporting heat because of its high heat capacity. So, for an island surrounded by water often ensconced in winds, feeling hotter in comparison with the mainland of Europe can make sense.
I would be careful about direct comparisons with individual countries though. The ozone layer evolves over each hemisphere in different ways so on particular days, it can be slightly thinner or thicker. But generally, it won’t kill you to cough up the extra bucks and additional 5 minutes and apply the sunscreen.”

Get more science questions answered here.

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