How to Avoid Sunburn This Summer

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

Last year, I went on vacation to Florida and ended up with a nasty red sunburn. I know I should stay out of the sun, but I want to enjoy my time on the beach this year. What can I do to make sure I don't get a sunburn?

It's not easy being burned. It's also not easy dealing with painful peeling, irritation, and sensitivity. Who wants to show up to summer barbecues looking as red as a pitcher of sangria?

Although long stretches in the sun do expose you to sun damage, it seems unrealistic and un-enjoyable for all of us to boycott long stretches of sandy beaches and an ice-cold margarita for all eternity.

If you're normally vigilant about sun exposure, however, it takes some extra wrangling to make sure that you don't leave that relaxing beach with stressful sunburns. If you're heading to a beach during the summer, pay attention to the following tips. You can enjoy your time without irritating-and potentially dangerous-side effects.

Try to stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM.

This six-hour period is when the sun is strongest. If you're going to be on a beach, stay under an umbrella for the most part and remind yourself about sunscreen. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids to stay hydrated.

Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go out. Reapply every two hours. For those who will be perspiring or in the water often, reapply sunscreen each hour. If you don't like reapplying sunscreen because sand sticks to your hands, opt for spray sunscreens. A no-rub spray sunscreen provides good sun protection with minimal mess. Try Neutrogena Fresh Cooling Body Mist Sunblock SPF 45.

Don't let your guard down when it's cloudy.

Clouds hide the sun and lull us into a false sense of security when it comes to burning. Unfortunately, the sun's rays penetrate through clouds and can burn us even under gray skies. Even when it's cloudy, remember to keep reapplying sunscreen.

Wear a floppy hat and sunglasses

You may think a wide-brimmed, floppy hat will prevent your face from getting any color. Sand and water reflect sunlight, however, so you still get sun exposure even without holding up foil sheets under your chin. Sunglasses with UV filters will also help prevent damage to your eyes. Whenever possible, take short breaks indoors to give your eyes a rest from the glare of the sun.

Don't forget lips, ears, scalp, and feet

These are commonly forgotten areas when it comes to sun protection. Many lip balms now come with SPF (just read the label) and your spray sunscreen will be able to cover your scalp and your feet-including your soles. People with darker skin should make an effort to cover all areas of feet and hands, since these areas are most vulnerable to sun damage.

Avoid medications or cosmetics that cause skin sensitivity or peeling.

Common cosmetic ingredients such as retinol and AHAs will cause photosensitivity. These ingredients are meant to help exfoliate skin and increase cell turnover, so they leave your skin vulnerable to increased sensitivity to the sun. In addition, certain medications are known to have photosensitive or photoallergic effects, which mean that they can result in more intense irritation and, in some cases, rashes and dermatitis. Ask your doctor about any prescription medications you're currently on and avoid taking NSAID pain medications such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve.

Enjoy, don't seek the sun

Your first impulse on vacation might be to lay out your towel and get tan quickly. In a word, resist. Use a self-tanner before you leave so that you can feel free to enjoy the sun without placing yourself in harm's way. Your hours in the water, under your umbrella, playing golf, and walking to the snack shack all expose you to the sun so there's no need to risk further skin damage by roasting on the sand. By the time you get home, you'll still be coasting on your sunny high without showing up red-faced in all your summer photos.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.