The screech of seagulls. The pounding surf. As your summer daydreams grow insistent, you grab a towel, fill up the cooler and set out for the golden sand ...
Haven't you forgotten something?
Right. Sun protection. Before a day on the beach, you need strategies to keep from returning browned or burned by harmful solar ultraviolet rays (UVR). Here's our five-step plan to make sure your next beach trip isn't just fun, but also sun-safe.
1. Choose the Right Time
The sun is most intense between 10 AM and 4:00 PM, so why not try an early morning or late afternoon trip? You'll avoid the crowds (and traffic) and have the beach more to yourself. And you'll get to enjoy the calm of daybreak or a stunning sunset.
2. Dress for Defense
Skimpy swimsuits may be in, but leave too much of you out. Other clothing can better shield you from UVR. Recent research shows that the right clothing offers even more protection than sunscreen.
Always wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses on the beach. Ladies, the tiny swimsuit might be fine in the water, but wear a sarong or another cover-up when you're on the sand. Men, try knee-length board shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt.
Tightly-woven fabric best protects the skin. Hold clothes up to the light. If you can see through it, UVR can penetrate it. Darker-colored and brightly colored fabrics (say, oranges and reds) are more sun-protective than pastel or pale ones, especially white T-shirts. And looser-fitting clothes surpass tight clothes that stretch a lot, allowing light through.
Today, many manufacturers offer special UV-absorbing clothes, from swimsuits and shirts to hats and pants. This clothing will usually have a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, indicating how much UVR it absorbs. A fabric with a 50 UPF, for example, allows only 1/50th of the sun's UVR to pass through.
You can also sun-proof your own clothing. Look for household laundry products containing special UV-absorbing agents that allow you literally to launder UV protection into garments. They can raise the UPF of a white cotton T-shirt from approximately 5 to as high as 30.
3. Pack Sunscreen
Broad-spectrum sunscreen is a core part of any sun safety regimen. The sun's UVA and UVB rays are the main causes of premature aging and skin cancer, so you need a good broad-spectrum sunscreen featuring ingredients that block or absorb both UVA and UVB. While cosmetics containing sunscreen are fine for incidental everyday exposure, for a long beach stint you need a separate, durable, water-resistant sunscreen. In addition to an SPF of 15 or higher - which guarantees good UVB protection - look for ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, MexorylTM, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that are ideal against UVA. Apply two tablespoons to all exposed body parts 30 minutes before you go outside. And bring the bottle with you.
4. Claim the Best Spot on (or off) the Sand
Find a spot that's covered - under a tree or pavilion - or make your own shade with a large beach umbrella. Today, umbrellas made with special sun-protective fabric provide a minimum SPF of 35.
5. Before You Fry, Reapply
When you're having a good time at the beach, it's easy to forget that sunscreen eventually breaks down or wears away in the sun. Even if the sunscreen says "long-lasting" on it, never assume you are safe all day after applying it once. Reapply at least every two hours and immediately after swimming or heavy exercise.
There you have it. Follow this simple action plan, and you'll have a whale of a day but leave the beach unscathed.
For a list of sunscreens, clothing, beach umbrellas, and other sun safety items that have received The Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation.