Follow These Tips to Prevent Sunburn

Follow These Tips to Prevent Sunburn

Summer is usually the time to get outdoors and enjoy everything the season has to offer, from backyard cookouts to long runs on the boardwalk. But before you soak up the sun, you’ll want to learn how to prevent sunburn. Flaky, lobster red skin is one summer milestone you’ll want to skip.

Start by finding the best sunscreens, but don’t stop there.

“It should be a three-pronged approach,” says Dr. Rachel Simmons, a dermatologist in Colorado. “Sunscreen is just one element, but there’s also sun-protective clothing and hats, and trying to seek shade and avoid sun exposure during peak times.”

Find out what else you need to do to protect your skin and prevent sunburn from ruining your day at the beach. The good news is, once you start implementing these habits, they’re easy-peasy!

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1. Put on sunscreen before you go outside.

“The most important thing that I tell my patients is that they should find a sunscreen that is 30 SPF or higher, and find one that you like and will use every day,” says Simmons.

Even when it’s cool or cloudy, use sunscreen daily on your face and any other part of your body that could be exposed to the sun’s rays.

About 30 minutes before stepping out, apply 1 ounce of broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher (about 2 tablespoons or a shot glass amount) to adequately cover your entire body.

“Most people don’t use the amount of sunscreen that they are supposed to,” says Simmons, “so the actual SPF that you have is a lot lower than what is on the label.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, aim for a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 to block 97% of UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs do block slightly more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100% of rays.

 

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2. Use a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum.

prevent sunscreen - woman putting sunscreen in hand

Two types of rays cause skin damage: UVA and UVB. UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn, but they each play a role in skin aging and increasing your risk of skin cancer. You’ll want to protect yourself against both. Standard SPF blocks only UVB rays. Broad-spectrum (or multispectrum) sunscreen protects against both.

Simmons recommends using a sunscreen that has zinc or titanium. “These two ingredients make sunscreen a physical blocker, as opposed to a chemical blocker,” says Simmons. “Physical blockers are better for sensitive skin and are better at broad-spectrum protection.”

 

3. Understand what SPF numbers mean.

The SPF number measures the amount of UV radiation exposure it takes to cause a sunburn when using a sunscreen, compared with how long it takes to get one without a sunscreen, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

For example, if you use sunscreen that’s SPF 30, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen at all. A higher SPF does not mean you can spend more time between applications.

 

4. Reapply sunscreen. (Seriously.)

prevent sunburn - spraying sunscreen on arm

No matter what the SPF number is, you have to reapply every two hours throughout the day to stay protected.

When you reapply, use the same amount — at least 1 ounce. Any less than that and you’re not getting the full protection it offers. Reapply immediately after swimming, sweating a lot, or toweling off.

Most water-resistant sunscreen is effective for 40 minutes in the water. (But always check the label.) Very water resistant is usually effective for 80 minutes of swimming. There is no such thing as 100% waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreen, so again, reapplying is key for the maximum protection.

 

5. Use a lip balm with sunscreen, too.

Lips can get sunburned, too, so always use a balm that contains some amount of SPF. Carry it with you and reapply during the entire day, like on a long hike or a sunny day skiing the slopes.

 

6. Avoid peak sun hours.

prevent sunburn - woman walking with sunglasses

If you can, avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. When you have to be outside during that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend covering up.

At the very least, wear sunscreen, a hat, and UV-protective sunglasses. The CDC suggests wearing tightly woven clothes that cover your arms and legs, in dark colors for better protection.

 

7. Layer on UPF clothing.

Hate reapplying sunscreen? There is one loophole: Wear clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) built in. Look for a lightweight top or bottom with UPF protection.

“If you are just wearing a white T-shirt, it’s only a UPF of 8, so that’s pretty low,” says Simmons. “It’s important to look for a higher-rated UPF label when it comes to UPF clothing.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a fabric that has a UPF of at least 30.

 

8. Don’t use expired sunscreen.

prevent sunburn - woman picking product in the store

Expired sunscreen is basically useless, so double-check the expiration date at the start of every season.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, sunscreen remains at its original strength for at least three years.

 

9. Always keep sunscreen with you

Stay stocked up on sunscreen in all locations where you’re likely to need it. Keep a bottle in the glove compartment of your car, a small spray or face lotion in your purse, and another bottle in your beach bag.

That’ll mean no excuses for forgetting to bring it. And no excuses means no chance to burn.

 

How To Prevent Sunburn from Peeling

Despite your best efforts, you may end up with a sunburn. Here are a few ways you can help speed up the healing process, if you fall asleep at the beach or forget to reapply and end up with a wicked sunburn.

Apply aloe vera.

Aloe vera moisturizes burned skin, and it feels cool to offer a bit of comfort. If your sunburn is still too much, over-the-counter pain medications (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) can ease some of the discomfort, says Simmons.

Stay hydrated.

As your skin is hurting and feeling dry, continue to drink plenty of water to rehydrate your entire body. Slather on lotion to lock in moisture once you start to heal, especially if you feel itchy and dry.

Leave it alone.

Don’t pick at your sunburn. It’ll just make things worse. (Also, it’s really gross.) That means don’t peel away the skin or pop any blisters.

Avoid the sun.

If you can, stay out of the sun when you already have a sunburn so you can protect yourself from any more UV damage.

 

What If You Get a Sunburn and Still Want to Go Outside?

If you’ve already turned red, but are looking forward to a day outside, don’t fret — you can still stay protected.

The rules are the same: Wear sunscreen, reapply it often, and cover up with long sleeves and a hat. You can enjoy your day without making your skin worse.

MattieSchulerHeadshot

About

Mattie Schuler is an adventure journalist who specializes on the outdoor industry, gear reviews, adventure sports, fitness and health, yoga, and travel. She currently resides in Boulder, Colorado. She has written hundreds of stories for numerous publications including Gore-Tex, Gear Junkie, Outside, Backpacker, Yoga Journal, Gore-Tex, Men's Journal, and Men's Fitness. In her free time, you can find Mattie hiking, camping, snowboarding, trail running, and practicing yoga. Follow her on Twitter.

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