From the best sun protective clothing and sun hats to the best SPF sun shelters to bring for shade, learn how to avoid sunburn at the beach.
Nothing ruins a beach trip more than the pain of a hot sunburn.
Not only will it stop you from enjoying your time in the sunshine, it could cause long lasting health problems you definitely want to avoid.
Skin cancer runs in my family, we are a very pale folk. I've had many dermatologists caution me about being extra careful with my own skin and my young daughters' skin, especially now that we live in the South where the sun is stronger.
However, our family absolutely loves our annual beach vacation. We can't imagine skipping out on that experience out of fear of the sun.
Instead, we use practical tips to keep our family safe and avoid sunburn at the beach.
Despite long days in the intense summer sun, we've only had a rare accident. For the most part we've been very successful in avoiding too much of the destructive sunlight.
Follow our lead and your family can safely enjoy one of the most wonderful family vacation experiences ever.
Time Your Visit
The #1 rule for avoiding sunburn is to avoid the sunshine during the most intense hours of the day.
Sunburn can happen at any time the sun is in the sky but the worst burns happen between the hours of 11 am - 4 pm.
We love to get up and out the door early and enjoy the beach from 8 am - 11 am. Then we head back to our beach condo for a rest. Sometimes we'll return to the beach after dinner.
Evening walks on the beach as the sun is setting are by far our favorite times to play and enjoy the beach because:
- It is less crowded.
- It isn't as hot.
- The winds are comfortable.
- There's a lot more sea creature activity happening in the sand and water that is fun to see.
- We don't have to squint to see each other well.
- The water is just as warm as during the day.
Bring Your Own Shade
Even if you're going to the beach in the morning before the intense hours, if the sun is up you want to be prepared to bring your own shade structures.
It has been our experience that most beaches in the Southeastern US do not allow beach tents on the beach. Some of the more private ones do, but if it is a popular beach you are much safer assuming that only an umbrella will be allowed.
Our family of 4 invested in a two of these amazing SPF-friendly beach umbrellas.
After lots of trial and error, and too many umbrellas breaking in the beach winds, we finally found the perfect solution.
These umbrellas are our favorite because:
- They hold up to vigorous winds (up to 44mph!!) without flipping inside out or bending.
- They mount in the sand in 10 minutes or less.
- They don't tilt or sag as the day goes on, the base holds them nice and firm.
- They are adjustable for the direction of the sun.
- They have the maximum UV rating for 50 UPF and are endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The Best Sunblock
The best sunblock is the one you actually use! The highest quality sunblock does you absolutely no good if it is still in the bottle.
Before you head out to the beach, make sure that every member of your family has applied sunblock to:
- Exposed scalp skin -- don't forget the part on a long-haired girl or boy's hairstyle. Those burns hurt so badly!
- Back of the neck
- Any exposed skin on the chest, arms, abdomen that isn't covered by a swimsuit.
- All exposed skin from the waist down that isn't covered by clothing -- don't forget the tops of the feet and ankles!
Then once you're at the beach, make sure to reapply sunscreen every 40 minutes to an hour depending on activity.
The Best Sun Hats
The first thing I tend to grab when we arrive at the beach is my sunhat. I love that it shields my eyes as we walk to our spot and protects my face and neck.
When shopping for a sun hat for your family, you'll want to look for:
- A Wide Brim: Will protect your scalp, face, neck, and possibly part of your shoulders.
- A Chin Strap: This helps keep the hat actually on your head when a big gust of wind comes through.
- Waterproof: Even if you don't plan to wear it into the water, splashing happens.
- SPF Sun Protection: There are lots of sun hats on the market these days that are made from UV rated fabric. While any clothing will help block some of the harmful rays, the beach sun is very intense and I always feel better with that extra layer of protection.
- Lightweight: You won't want to wear a heavy hat in the beach heat. Choose a hat that is comfortable and you're much more likely to keep it on.
- Packable: Hats that are able to be rolled up and packed in a bag are so much more convenient than stiff, firm hats.
This is one example of a perfect sun hat for the beach. It comes in many neutral colors.
Protect Your Eyes
One of the best purchases I ever made at a local beach shop was a pair of polarized sunglasses that completely saved my trip to the beach.
My other pair of glasses had broken so I bought them in a pinch. I'd never worn polarized glasses before and was absolutely blown away how much easier it was to see in the bright sunshine.
These polarized sunglasses are my favorite because:
- They have UV400 protection.
- They are lightweight and come in several colors.
- They are sturdy and well made with FDA approved impact resistant lenses.
- They are super budget-friendly so I don't feel terrible if I lose them at the beach.
You can order the exact same sunglasses online right here.
Just be sure to select the POLARIZED version, some frame colors offer both polarized and non-polarized. The polarized works way better at the beach.
I ordered pairs for my entire family (ages 10 and up) and they fit perfectly.
Sun Protective Swimwear
Some people think you cannot get sunburn through a swimsuit, they would be absolutely wrong.
How do I know? We've had it happen. Never again.
Now, I always make sure to buy safe swimsuits for my family to protect their most delicate of skin.
When my girls were young, I loved swimsuits by Lands End or Hanna Andersson because they came with special UV protection.
Then in addition to the swimsuit itself, we always had a protective rash guard or swim shirt they would wear to cover their arms.
I almost always buy my own swimsuits from Lands End. I love that they have tons of options for protective swim suits in either 1-piece or 2-piece styles with mix and match options that include:
- swim shorts
- swim skirts
- bikini bottoms
- long sleeve tops
- short sleeve tops
- tank style types
- strapless tops
- swim dresses
I'll select the style I want to wear to our local pool at home and then add a UV safe coverup or swim shirt and shorts for wearing over the top.
A swim shirt like this one is a fantastic option because not only does it have a UPF 50 rating, it has a zipper neckline that lets you open up the neck and cool off in the shade and an adjustable drawstring hemline that lets you fit the length to your suit and style.
Protect Your Feet
Personally, I prefer to use sunblock to protect my feet so that I can go barefoot at the beach.
However, if you're seriously concerned about skin cancer, you'll definitely want to cover up those toes.
A waterproof swim shoe like these light swim socks would be a perfect option. While they don't appear to have actual UV ratings, they will do a more consistent job of protecting your skin from the sun than sunblock alone.
You'll also have the added bonus of protecting your feet from sharp shells and debris in the sand.
Heading to the beach? Don't miss these these helpful tips for having the best day trip ever: