Aug 15, 2022 · 7 min read
Going to the beach is synonymous with summer—long hot days, cool breezy nights, and refreshing dips in the water. But sometimes, after a long day spent in the sea or on the beach, you might find yourself with an ever-dreaded sunburn.
There’s no denying that a sunburn can be painful. Your skin feels tight, swollen and sore to the touch, but underneath that red exterior, your skin is experiencing something so much more severe. The sun’s UV rays are one of the biggest contributors to photoaging, hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and skin cancer.
Proper sun protection is key to avoid sun damage. Sunscreen is an important part of good sun protection, but you need to remember to reapply it liberally and often—and that sun damage is still a risk even while wearing sunscreen. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan—unless it’s one that didn’t come from the sun or a tanning bed!
Knowing how sunscreen works is not only fascinating (or at least we think so!), but it can also help you understand why wearing it is so important. SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” which is related to the amount of solar exposure it protects against, not the time it protects for.¹ The SPF rating tells you how much solar energy (UV rays) is needed to elicit a sunburn in sunscreen-protected skin vs unprotected skin. That said, SPF only measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays (the main factor in sunburns—more on those in a bit) from damaging the skin. SPF 30 will have greater sunburn protection than SPF 15, but sunscreen with an SPF of 30 won’t protect you twice as long as one with an SPF of 15.
Along with SPF, other factors to consider include the time of day you’re in the sun, your skin type, the amount of sunscreen you’re using, and how often you’re reapplying.
Broad spectrum refers to a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVA and UVB rays. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays are classified into UVA, which has a longer wavelength, and UVB, which has a shorter one.² Broad spectrum sunscreen provides protection against UVA and UVB, while SPF refers to UVB protection only.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin compared to UVB rays. They can pass through clouds and glass and are the main contributor to photoaging (dark spots and wrinkles) and tanning. They can also increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
UVB rays can cause redness and sunburn. UVB rays are primarily blocked by glass and can also contribute to skin cancer development.
Here’s another way to easily remember some of the differences between UVA and UVB: “A” is for aging, and “B” is for burning. It’s important to protect your skin from both.
SPF can be confusing—how much SPF for the beach is necessary? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.³ It’s important to know that no sunscreen blocks 100% of the sun’s rays. When properly applied, SPF 30 lets about 3% of UVB rays through, and SPF 50 lets about 2%.⁴
Whether you intend to go into the water or not, you should always wear water-resistant sunscreen at the beach. It’ remains effective when you sweat, get splashed, or decide to take a dip. Water-resistant sunscreens can protect you from the sun’s rays when you get wet. The FDA requires manufacturers to label their products as water-resistant for 40 or 80 minutes.⁵
Remember, sunscreen is only effective if it’s on your skin, and no sunscreen will protect you all day. That’s why it’s important to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading out, blend well, and then reapply at least every two hours or after sweating, swimming, or toweling off. Apply liberally. Use at least 1 oz. (about the amount to fill a shot glass) to cover your body at each application.⁶
Our go-to for the beach is a long-lasting water-resistant (80 minutes) SPF 30 sunscreen or higher that’s also reef-friendly. But here’s what you should know about the different types of sunscreens and the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen.
Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which may help soothe irritation⁷
Physically reflects or “bounces” sunlight away from the skin
Certain physical sunscreen may leave a white cast on the skin unless it’s rubbed in well, micronized, or tinted
Contains ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone
Absorbs UV light and chemically alters it to minimize skin penetration
May irritate or cause an allergic reaction in people with sensitive skin
Typically, mineral sunscreens
Specifically excludes chemicals such as oxybenzone or octinoxate, which are known to damage coral reefs
May be required by local law
Provides protection from the sun while immersed in water for 40 or 80 minutes
Can be physical or chemical
No sunscreen is waterproof—you still need to reapply your SPF after sweating or contact with water!
Wondering which sunscreen is best for swimming? Whether you’re planning to go for a swim or not, the best beach sunscreens are water-resistant. Here are some of our favs:
Neutrogena Sport Face Oil-Free Lotion SPF 70 is one of the best broad-spectrum SPF for the beach. This facial sunscreen uses non-comedogenic oil-free ingredients. The best part—it’s sweat and water-resistant for 80 minutes.
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 provides sun protection with a 100% mineral formula, made for delicate skin. It’s hypoallergenic, tear-free, and water-resistant for 80 minutes.
CoTZ Sensitive SPF 40 is formulated for sensitive skin. It’s non-irritating, with zinc oxide as its active ingredient. This one is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.
ThinkSport Sunscreen was created with athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in mind and uses zinc oxide to block UV rays. You’ll feel good about wearing this environmentally conscious sunscreen in and out of the water (at least for 80 minutes before needing to reapply).
Australian Gold Botanical SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion is a 100% mineral water-resistant (80 minutes) sunscreen that contains Australian botanicals rich in antioxidants. It provides SPF 50 protection.
Neutrogena Clear Face (or Clear Body) Break-Out Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 or 50 is one of the best sunscreens for acne-prone skin—whether that’s facial or body acne. It’s also water-resistant for 80 minutes.
Here’s one thing we know, if your sunscreen causes breakouts, you won’t want to use it! Body acne concerns are very real. So here are a few tips:
Avoid products not labeled with the terms "non-comedogenic,” "non-acnegenic," "does not clog pores," or "won’t cause breakouts." We still recommend checking products labeled as non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.
Check for coconut oil (aka cocos nucifera oil). Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare products and many cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it.
Watch out for alcohol. Products containing alcohol can dry out your skin, making it more likely to become irritated, which can lead to breakouts.
Full-body sunscreen is a must for the safest fun in the sun, whether you’re at the beach, the pool, or anywhere in between. While you’re at it, don’t forget to protect your face! The sunscreen by Curology is specially formulated for your face. It’s a 100% mineral-based grease-free sunscreen that won’t clog your pores and won’t leave a white-cast on your skin.
If you’re looking for a full-service skincare solution for acne or anti-aging concerns we’re here for you. Our products are the perfect addition to your after-beach summer routine, and our experts are here to help with any of your skincare concerns. But Curology products and expert consultations are only available to members. Luckily, signing up is a breeze. Just take a short quiz, snap a few selfies, and you’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who will create your personal prescription formula just for your skin and skincare goals. It’s that easy!
The first month’s on us (just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling).* Give it a try. And you can even add the sunscreen to your first order for free.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Our go-to for the beach is a long-lasting water-resistant (80 minutes) SPF 30 sunscreen or higher that’s also reef-friendly. Here’s what you should know about the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen.
Broad spectrum refers to a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin compared to UVB rays.
Water-resistant sunscreens can protect you from the sun’s rays when you get wet. It remains effective when you sweat, get splashed, or decide to take a dip.
Avoid products not labeled with the terms "non-comedogenic,” "non-acnegenic," "does not clog pores," or "won’t cause breakouts." Check for coconut oil (aka cocos nucifera oil) and watch out for alcohol.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sun Protection Factor. (2017, July 14).
Dale Wilson, B., et al. Comprehensive review of ultraviolet radiation and the current status on sunscreens. (2012).
American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.).
Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the Expert: Does a high SPF protect my skin better? (2020, June 9).
Wang, S.Q., et al. Current status of the sunscreen regulation in the United States: 2011 Food and Drug Administration’s final rule on labeling and effectiveness testing. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2011, August 8).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. (2021, November 8).
Gupta, M., et al. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatology research and practice. (2014).
* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary.
Kristen Jokela, NP-C