Top Sun Safety Tips – Vacation Edition

By Kathy LejaMeyer, ARNP

I’m sure we could all agree that it has been a long, cold winter, and we are all looking forward to the weather starting to warm up. Spring is beginning to show its beautiful colors, and this is the perfect time to start thinking about the family vacation. Whether staying close to home or taking a long-awaited vacation in the tropics, it is important to do prep work before traveling to keep the family healthy and safe.

Top 4 Tips to Pack for Sun Safety:

  1. A good zinc/titanium-based sunscreen for the face, neck & chest. These used to be the “white paste, difficult to rub in sunscreens.” Thankfully, they have formulated much better products that are easier to apply and more cosmetically pleasing. My favorites are EltaMD® & SkinCeuticals®. These are excellent products you can purchase in clinical offices. La Roche-Posay®, Sun Bum, Blue Lizard®, Aveeno®, and any baby sunscreens are also formulated with zinc. 
  2. Stick sunscreen and powder sunscreen: unsung heroes. Stick sunscreens by EltaMD, Blue Lizard®, or Neutrogena® are easy to use, not messy, and can quickly spot treat the nose or back of hands when golfing, fishing, or driving. It keeps the grip less greasy and decreases actinic damage so typical to this area. Powder sunscreen is zinc powder and very well tolerated by all ages. Young kids can apply easily, women can effortlessly apply over makeup like a setting powder, and guys avoid the “shiny” look.
  3. Find a hat you like and wear it – sunglasses too. Hats with a 3” brim are recommended, but there’s no good in bringing it if you won’t wear it. While reflection off the water and snow can cause a sunburn, it is more common to get a sunburn from the sun beaming down at you. Areas that are left uncovered require sunscreen.
  4. Based on the activity: rash guards for swimming, sun shirts when backpacking, buffs to protect the neck, stick sunscreen for the back of hands and the nose, and lip balm with SPF are easy saves for the most active of folks.

What do I need to look for in a sunscreen?

A sunscreen with an SPF 30 is the minimum I would recommend, preferably with active ingredients of zinc and titanium. These are physical ingredients that sit on top of the skin and reflect harmful UV rays. They are gentle on the skin, rarely causing skin sensitivity, and are gracious to the environment. Cons of using this type of sunscreens: they can be difficult to “rub in.” Significant measures have been made to improve the cosmetic use of these sunscreens to protect the skin well and minimize the white pasty look. While I recommend lotions or stick sunscreens the most for adequate coverage, spray sunscreen for reapplication throughout the day has a place for active kids who are in and out of sand and water.

The other type of sunscreens—the ones that do not clog the dispenser—are chemical. If one is willing to look past the controversy of chemicals in sunscreen, I will conjure that protection from the typical use of chemical sunscreens from harmful UV rays is better than the DNA changes that can occur with sunburn causing nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and melanoma.

Indeed, there is a strong variable between what I recommend and what one will do.

Find a good mineral-based sunscreen you are willing to use daily. Even when you are not on vacation, you want to pay special attention to applying daily to your face and neck. I recommend thoroughly applying sunscreen lotion/cream 30 minutes before going outside. Maintain coverage with an SPF stick, powder, or spray at least every 1.5-2 hours based on time outside and activity. If you are playing in the water, working up a sweat, or active within that time, it is recommended to re-apply more frequently. Extra protection comes from using a hat, sunglasses, sun-protective suit, or cover up.

Is there a difference in UV rays based on where you vacation?

To go and see new places is a highlight for many. The closer you are to the equator, the hotter the sun. Same with places in high altitudes. That said, we can burn cookies in the oven whether we cook them at 275 degrees for 40 minutes or 500 degrees for 10 mins. You need to consider your skin tone, level of sun exposure, and awareness of time in the sun. Perhaps the most significant hardship is getting out of warm water to reapply sunscreen, so you don’t get burned!

How do I protect my children?

Protecting your kids is no different than protecting yourself. Typically, I will recommend only sun protective swim gear and clothing and zinc/titanium or baby sunscreens for babies and young kids. These offer better protection and less skin sensitivity than chemical-based sunscreens, and kids are more agreeable to their use. 

Sunscreen application can be messy and a disliked process. Apply approximately ½-1 tsp to the neck and face. A good ounce (palm full) for the body is the recommendation. Some suggest making it a fun activity for the kids. Please share your ideas to make sunscreen application a fun part of the day!

Older children and teens are like adults. Start with a lotion and encourage reapplication with a sunscreen they will tolerate and use.

Any specific brand recommendations?

Men: Tend to like sheer products for the face: EltaMD® UV Clear, SkinCeuticals® Sheer UV Defense, La Roche-Posay® sheer mineral sunscreen, and Neutrogena products are all top picks. CeraVe® AM is also well received and typically easy to find.

Women: There is a wider array of choices based on no tint, tinted, or moisturizing options with adequate SPF. I use EltaMD® UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44, or La Roche-Posay® tinted mineral sunscreen. I follow up with a powder mineral sunscreen throughout the day.

OTC: Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection®, Neutrogena Sheer Zinc®, Blue Lizard, Sun Bum, even Babyganics®, have great reviews and are well tolerated. Costco sunscreen products also seem to have good reviews overall and are easily accessible for most.

I forgot to apply sunscreen and now have a sunburn

Make sure to drink plenty of water, keep your skin covered, and sit in the shade. Ibuprofen can decrease inflammation, assisting with generalized comfort, but the burning sensation remains. Some say the tannin in tea can be helpful, and aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory that can help ease the pain of the burn. While it is vital to ensure you are not allergic to these products, time and sun avoidance is the only protective option post sunburn. If your skin is blistered and the sun damage severe, medical attention may be warranted.

At Advanced Dermatology & Skin Surgery, we strongly believe that one of our top priorities is to educate our patients on how to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun. If you have any questions, please contact us, or book an appointment online for one of four locations.

Kathy LejaMeyer, ARNP works at our Spokane North and Spokane Valley locations. She enjoys all aspects of general, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology with a special focus on acne, rosacea, persistent rashes, and skin cancer prevention and management.