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10 Essential Tips to Avoid Sunburn and Skin Damage at the Beach

Beautiful woman holding her arm, with palm leaf at the beach

What’s better than a perfect day on the beach? A cool breeze and the sound of the waves can certainly be a relaxing way to spend sunny summer days.

But where there’s sunshine, there’s also dangerous UVA and UVB rays. These rays can cause painful burns, inflamed skin that ages prematurely, and worst of all: skin cancer.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and spending excessive time in the sun certainly increases your chances of developing this deadly disease.

Luckily, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to enjoy time in the sun without compromising the health of your skin.

Follow the following tips to make sure you are safe from all forms of sun damage before your next beach trip.

Never Visit a Tanning Bed or Get a “Base Tan”

You may have heard that at the beginning of summer you need to obtain a “base tan.” This is supposed to be a light level of tanning that primes your skin for the longer and more intense periods of sunlight it will experience once on vacation or at the beach.

Tanning beds are often used to start a base tan. Many will claim that having a base tan prevents you from getting a sunburn later on.

This is a myth, however. While exposing pale winter skin to intense amounts of sunlight suddenly and without protection is a surefire way to get burned, a base tan does more damage than good.

In fact, any time you experience tanning of your skin, it is actually a sign that damage has occurred.

And while the controlled environment of a tanning salon may seem safer than laying out on your back porch, this is not the case either.

A tanning bed exposes you to the same harmful UV radiation that natural sunlight does, both aging your skin and increasing your chances of developing skin cancer.

If your goal is to prevent sunburn, you’re much better off investing in a quality sunscreen and protective clothing. And if you simply love the look of suntanned skin, look for cosmetic tanning lotions that give you a golden glow without the damage.

Wear Protective Clothing

Shorts and a tank top or t-shirt are great for staying cool and taking advantage of the summer weather.

But keep in mind, the more skin is exposed to the sun, the more opportunity for sun damage to occur. If you are going to be outside for long periods, covering up is a safer bet.

When you are doing outdoor activities in the sun, try to wear loose but opaque long-sleeved tops and long skirts or pants to help protect your body from the sun’s rays. Dark colors are also better at acting as a barrier between you and UV rays.

These days, there are also many options for clothing specifically made with an SPF factor built into the fabric. These are great for outdoor activities, as they will continue to protect the areas they cover for hours after sunscreen lotion would have already worn off. No reapplying needed!

Don’t Forget Your Eyes

Most of us are accustomed to slathering on sunscreen or grabbing a big sunhat or beach umbrella before heading to the water. But how often do you remember to wear your sunglasses?

While we may think of sunglasses as more of a fashion accessory or convenience item, they are actually a vital part of your sun care routine.

The truth is, our eyes are very vulnerable to the effects of the sun. Eyes that are repeatedly exposed without protection are prone to developing cataracts and other eye diseases.

Eyelids are also an area that is usually neglected when sunscreen is applied. Many sunscreen formulations may be unsuitable for use around the eyes, and it can certainly burn if it gets into your tear ducts. But left unprotected, eyelids are just as susceptible to skin cancer as any other part of your body.

This leaves sunglasses as the main shield to protect both eyes and the skin around them from sun damage. But don’t pick up just any pair of shades. While you may think that the darker the lenses, the better, this is actually not an indicator of how well the glasses will protect you.

Instead, check that the lenses have a special UV coating applied. This will not only serve to protect your vision from the invisible damage of sun rays but may also reduce glare and keep you from squinting all day and creating fine lines on your forehead. Bonus!

In addition to the protective coating, find glasses that curve or wrap around the sides of your face to further cover the delicate skin surrounding your eyes.

Apply and Re-Apply Sunscreen

Now, of course, no sun protection list would be complete without sunscreen! This is, of course, one of the most important products for protecting your skin from all forms of sun damage, and is often touted as an essential step in any daily anti-aging routine.

This is because sunscreen is designed to filter and scatter suns rays instead of allowing them to penetrate into your skin. And this degree of protection will be critical for any time spent at the beach, where the sun will be coming at you from many directions.

Illustration of UV rays penetrating skin layers

However, it is important to keep in mind that to receive this protection you must select the right sunscreen, read the label and directions carefully, and apply it thoroughly. And even with all steps followed perfectly, the reality is that no sunscreen can protect you completely.

While a high SPF can block most UV rays, it cannot block all of them. On top of this, the protection you receive from sunscreen is temporary. You must reapply it constantly to continue to receive the benefits. This means reapplying sunscreen no less than every two hours you are outside, and after swimming or sweating.

Use a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30. Look for “broad-spectrum” on the label, as this will provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Also, be sure to opt for a formula marked “water-resistant.”

To use sunscreen correctly, begin by applying your sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you head outside. This gives the sunscreen enough time to absorb into your skin. If you wait until you are already outside to apply, not only are you exposing yourself to the sun without protection but if you begin to sweat this can make it harder for the lotion fully absorb.

Using enough sunscreen is also important. The average person will need to use at least one ounce of sunscreen to cover their arms, legs, face, and neck. Be sure to rub into skin completely, and cover all exposed skin. This often includes often-forgotten areas such as the tops of your feet, back of your hands, and ears.

A Higher SPF Doesn’t Protect You Longer

Sun protection factor—or SPF, as it’s commonly referred to—is often misunderstood. It’s easy to think that the higher the SPF, the longer you can stay in the sun.

Actually, the SPF number indicates what percentage of UV rays the sunscreen can filter and block. So while this ultimately means a higher SPF is better at protecting you, it is important to understand that the amount of time the coverage exists stays the same.

So no matter what sunscreen you use, you absolutely must reapply every two hours to retain the protection.

While it doesn’t hurt to get an SPF of over 100, don’t be fooled into thinking it can protect you all day. No sunscreen can provide protection for that long, or after swimming and sweating. Keep reapplying!

What about moisturizers infused with SPF?

This is a great way to protect your skin from moisture loss as well as sun damage. Just be sure to look for a moisturizer that provides a coverage of at least SPF 30. The Resveratrol Zinfandel Radiance Cream is a good example.

Check The Sunscreen Expiration Date

If you have sunscreen left from last summer, be sure to check for an expiration date.

Do sunscreens actually expire, you ask?

Yes, they do! Sunscreens are usually good for two or three years after opening if they are stored properly.

But if you leave your sunscreen in a hot car all summer, the formula can degrade and the ability to protect you will decrease.

A good idea is to write the date you opened the package somewhere on the bottle or tube, and keep it somewhere cool and dry. And when it comes to sun protection, a good rule of thumb is always, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

The last thing you want is to come home from the beach with a nasty sunburn, all because  your sunscreen was too old to be effective.

Avoid the Sunniest Part of The Day

Another way to limit your risk of sun damage is to carefully choose what time of day you spend outside and when to choose shade instead.

Generally speaking, the sun is at its peak from about 10 a.m. to around 4 p.m. This means it’s ideal to do the majority of your beach activities during the early morning or evening hours.

hottest hours of the day

If you do end up outside during the late morning or afternoon peak sunlight hours, try to stay in shaded areas such as under a beach umbrella, gazebo, or even beneath a leafy tree. And be sure to keep your protective clothing, hat, and sunglasses on as well.

Be Aware of Reflective Surfaces

One of the biggest myths about sunburns is that the weather needs to be sunny for you to get one.

Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

You are actually more likely to get a sunburn when it is cloudy and overcast.

The reason is deceptively simple: many things—including clouds—reflect the sun’s rays.

This means that while the clouds seem to be giving you shade, they may actually be magnifying the invisible radiation that gives you sun damage. So don’t let a cloudy day be your excuse for going out without sunscreen.

This same issue applies to many other surfaces as well, and this is especially true of the beach environment. The water and sand of the beach both reflect sunlight. So while the shade of an umbrella keeps the sun from beating down on the top of your head, it does nothing to keep the rays from bouncing off the sand and hitting you from below. This is all the more reason to slather on that sunscreen, even in the areas of your body that may not be getting direct sunlight.

Wear a Big Hat

Hats are the next most important item of clothing in your skin-protection arsenal. While any head covering can protect your hairline and scalp from the sun, to get the most from your headgear, look for broad-brimmed hats.

A good sunhat will be made of solid material. Many straw hats with a wide-weave may leave little holes for the sun to peek through, making them counterproductive.

Your beach hat should also have a solid brim of at least three inches all around in order to provide the most shade. This gives extra coverage to your face, eyes, ears, and the back of your neck. Not to mention, a sunhat is the perfect summer accessory!

Getting in the Water Doesn’t Protect You

While it may be tempting to push the limits of how much sun you can get before getting burned, how you feel is not always a good indicator of how much sunlight your skin is absorbing.

Your skin may often look perfectly fine for quite some time, all while a sunburn is actually brewing beneath the surface.

And while heading into the water is definitely a good way to cool off when you are starting to feel the heat, it does not protect you from UVA and UVB rays.

These harmful rays can penetrate water, meaning even if you are neck deep you can still be exposed to possible sun damage. In fact, the mirror-like nature of the water will probably just allow even more sunlight to be reflected on the skin that is under water.

This is why feeling cool is not a factor in how our skin is handling the sun. Keep all the same rules in mind when enjoying a swim. Avoid the sunniest times of day and come ashore to reapply sunscreen every two hours or every time you get out of the water.

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