Protect Yourself On Your Beach Vacation: Sunscreen Tips From a Person with Sensitive Skin3 min read

I’ve always had to be careful about my skin. I’ve long been told that I inherited fair skin from the Irish side of my family. Growing up, I’d watch my siblings (blessed with skin inherited from the Italian half) develop easy tans on vacations while my skin went straight from white to red in the sun. 

In adulthood, I developed rosacea, a condition that involves sensitivity to sunlight, and was also told that I am at high risk for skin cancer. So skincare has long been front-of-mind for me, especially when going to the beach. Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way.  

Lather Up Before You Go Outside

While it’s easier to apply sunscreen stretched out on a towel in the open air, it’s better to do it before you get there. If you wait until you’re on the beach, you’ve already made your way toward the sand, found the perfect spot and unloaded all your things. You were probably exposed to the open sun with no protection for at least fifteen minutes. 

Including applying sunscreen before you leave your hotel has an added benefit: it adds sunblock to your general going-out routine. I am most likely to get sunburn when I’m not at the beach, when I haven’t prepared to be outside for a long period. Make sunscreen application a habit to protect yourself during all the outdoor activities you have planned. 

Choose the Right Sunscreen, and Apply Correctly

The CDC recommends sunscreen that has the words “broad spectrum” on the bottle, and that has an SPF of 15 or higher. The Skin Cancer Foundation takes that further, recommending an SPF of 30 or higher. While the percentage of UV rays hitting your skin diminishes more slightly above 30 SPF, that difference is still significant for fair-skinned folks like me who need all the help they can get. I always go for the good stuff: 50 SPF, no exceptions. 

While technically both sprays and lotions offer equal protection, studies have shown that people who spray use a smaller amount of sunscreen. And the amount is important—the amount of sunscreen covering your body should take up a full shot glass. That measurement is easier to estimate using lotion. If you still opt for spray-based sunblock, spray each area for longer than a few seconds for adequate coverage. 

Don’t Forget to Reapply!

Have you ever been very thorough with your sunscreen at the beginning of a beach day and still walked home with a burn? It might have been because you forgot to reapply. 

Many people think that if they put on sunscreen with a high enough SPF, they are protected for a full day. Not so! It is recommended that you reapply after two hours. 

When I’m at the beach, I try to remember to reapply after my first swim in the ocean. That works for me because of my beach routine—I usually sit in the sand first, until I’m hot enough that cooling off in the water is even more satisfying. I spend enough time in the water that reapplication usually happens about two hours in. 

Take Care of Your Burn

Sunburn happens. Sometimes it happens despite our best efforts. How do you treat it so you don’t let it ruin your vacation? 

Doctors recommend aloe vera gel to soothe the burn and moisturizer to help repair your skin. If the pain is really getting to you, you can take over-the-counter ibuprofen to manage it. Just don’t forget to keep applying sunscreen if you plan to be outside more. 

I hope these tips help you, but remember—sunscreen is not the lone answer to skin protection. Try other safety measures, like wide-brimmed hats and shade covers, to help protect you so you can enjoy the sunshine. 


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