This past week, I was in Croatia, soaking up the last days of summer. The beautiful Dalmatian Coast is home to thousands of islands and sits along the Adriatic Sea. The week’s activities included island hopping, beach bumming, and water sports, so wearing a bodysuit or holding up a parasol was out of the question. But it’s all fun and games until someone ends up with a serious sunburn. Research shows that even one bad sunburn during childhood can greatly increase your risk for melanoma (Yikes. I cringe when I think about those sunburnt summer vacations as a kid).
Here’s how to stay protected during even the most intense beach vacations:
1. Pick an SPF greater than 30 (but I would go with 50).
The higher the SPF, the more coverage you get, but no SPF will block out 100% of the sun’s rays. SPF 30 will block out 97% of the sun’s rays, but if you under-apply it, you might be blocking less. Coverage maxes out at around SPF 50, but sometimes going beyond SPF 50 may help compensate for people who are under-applying their sunscreen.
2. Pick a waterproof sunscreen with broad spectrum coverage against UVA + UVB rays.
What’s the point in picking a non-waterproof sunscreen anyway during a beach vacation? Even if you’re not going into the water, you’re sweating aren’t you? And water-resistant sunscreens aren’t as durable as waterproof ones but still better than non-waterproof.
3. Creams, gels, sprays… anything works!
Creams can sometimes be better than sprays because they help you see where you are applying. But if you’re like me and hate the thick texture of creams, go with the sprays. Just make sure you’re applying on evenly and not missing any spots.
4. Reapply, reapply.
It doesn’t matter if it says waterproof or water-resistant, because sunscreen doesn’t last forever. Especially after swimming. Even if the label says the sunscreen can stay on 180 minutes after swimming, I’d recommend reapplying each time you get out of the water.
5. Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going into the water.
Okay, I’m guilty of not always following this rule (who wants to wait while their sunscreen dries??). But at the very least, wait for the sunscreen to dry before jumping into the water. You can sip on a piña colada while you’re waiting.
6. Don’t forget about the eyes and ears.
Most people know that the common areas to get burned are the nose, shoulders, and back. But don’t neglect the other spots either! Lots of sunglasses don’t block both UVA and UVB rays so make sure to cover those eyes to avoid future crow’s feet. And no one ever thinks about their ears, but skin cancers can still hit those spots.
7. And lips too!
Skin cancers can form on the lips too, so make sure to pick up some broad spectrum lip balm.
8. Beach umbrellas don’t block everything.
Just because you are hiding under a beach umbrella does NOT mean that you are completely protected. About 1/3 of UV rays can still reach you by being reflected in the sand or other nearby objects. But it still blocks a lot, so get some shade if you’re not in the water.
9. You can still get a tan.
Tanning is an inherent sign of sign damage, and will inevitably happen if you’re exposing your skin outdoors. Just because you’re protecting your skin from from UV rays, does NOT mean that some rays won’t get through. However, you can drastically slow the process down and avoid sunburn and skin peeling.
Wu S, Han J, Laden F, Qureshi AA. Long-term ultraviolet flux, other potential risk factors, and skin cancer risk: a cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014;23(6):1080-9.
Utrillas MP, Martínez-lozano JA, Nuñez M. Ultraviolet radiation protection by a beach umbrella. Photochem Photobiol. 2010;86(2):449-56.