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Helpful Hints for the Beach: #3 How to Use Sunscreen

Updated: May 26

man applying zinc oxide sunscreen to his face
Using a zinc stick in a shady outdoor spot before heading to the beach

The beach is the one reason we are all here. Visitors and locals alike live or vacation in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Perdido Key, and Gulf Shores for the quartz white sand and gentle emerald waters. But not enough people seem to understand the value of and how to use sunscreen properly. That's why their skin is red like a stop sign when they leave the beach for the day. This misunderstanding results in too many people having uncomfortable sun burns that ache for days and then peel like molting animals. In the following paragraphs, we are going to explain how to use sunscreen.

a close up of a tube of mineral 50 SPF sunscreen with a list of ingredients
SPF 50 is a great choice for kids or people with sensitive skin.

What Is SPF

Let's start with some basic info. Sunscreen’s purpose is not a mystery; it protects you from the sun. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is the go-to number we look for when looking for sunscreen. The higher SPF the stronger the protection. Low SPF lotions tend to be watery and go on super quickly; while higher SPFs are like trying to rub mashed potatoes into your skin. Keep this in mind when putting lotion on yourself or any kids in your group. Also, to get the most out of your SPF, understanding how much and when to apply is key. A standard shot glass full of cream is the recommended measure to cover an adults entire body. But if you try to lather yourself down with a shot glass full of SPF 70 or higher, you're only going to be frustrated. Start with a small amount in your hand and rub it into place. You will be able to get a sense of how easily it went on and how far that small amount went. Be sure to cover your entire body except for the face and any parts that will absolutely not see the sun. For your face? A nickel-sized amount of face specific formula should do the trick. We typically use zinc bars (more on zinc later). But keep in mind that one application is not enough to last the whole day. Reapply a fresh coat every two hours, and after a dip in the surf, is essential to keep your sweet meat from getting fried.

a man applying sunscreen to his shoulder
Apply your first coat of sunscreen in a shady outdoor space.

Let it Dry

The number one rule of sunscreen is to let it dry. So, an ideal application setting is not under the blazing sun where your sweat or the Gulf water will wash it away. Cool, dry skin is best for the first application of the day. Inside your vacation rental is not the best spot for this to go down either. Avoid having to explain to the owner of your vacation rental why his or her couch looks like the greasy inside of a hotdog package. Helpful Hint: Apply sunscreen outdoors, in a cool, shady area so that it can dry. For best results (and good karma), apply your first coat of sunscreen in a shady spot outside of your car, home, or condo. Subsequent coats should be applied about every two hours or after a decent amount of time in the water. We recommend applying sunscreen from a seated position on a towel under one of our umbrellas. Spread out under our umbrella's six foot canopies and lather that white gold back onto your skin while the surf laps onto the shore. Understanding how to use sunscreen can help prevent uncomfortable burns or other potential health issues.

the rear label of a popular brand of sunscreen in front of a back drop of Gulf of Mexico waters and white sand
Check out the ingredients before use. Keep in mind that what you put on your body gets into your body.

What's In This Stuff?

Growing up along the coast, I remember in movies and along the beach seeing lifeguards with "white stuff" on the bridges of their noses. I always thought it was just regular sunscreen that was never rubbed in - but it wasn't. It was zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is a more natural approach to sun protection and uses minerals to reflect the sun's rays. Zinc and other mineral based sunscreens avoid chemicals like oxybenzone or octinoxate which cause coral reef bleaching and are related to several health issues in people. These (and other less harmful) chemical based sunscreens absorb the UV rays and then wash or wear off. Both mineral and chemical products protect the person who wears them from the sun if they understand how to use sunscreen and apply correctly. Pick whichever you like, but remember to apply them properly.

a large jug of water sitting on a beach table next to a blue mountain beach condominiums beach chair with the Gulf of Mexico water and sand is behind it
Did you know that the cool Gulf breeze is robbing your skin of moisture?

Stay Hydrated (With Water)

The gentle beach breeze can feel like a godsend on really hot summer days. But did you know that the salty Gulf breeze can actually rob your body of moisture? The combination of heat, sun, and salty ocean breezes can quickly lead to dehydration, making it essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Yes, we know there is water in beer BUT there is more water in ... water. Helpful Hint: drink more water. Drinking alcohol is fine when done in the right setting - and the beach is a great setting as long as it is coupled with a good amount of high quality H2O. Staying hydrated helps maintain your energy levels, supports vital bodily functions, and aids in keeping your skin resilient against the drying effects of the sun and saltwater. By prioritizing both sunscreen application and adequate water intake, you're not just investing in a day's worth of fun at the beach but also in your long-term health and well-being.

a beach attendant wearing sunglasses and a Florence Marine shirt holding and umbrella with the Gulf of Mexico water in the background
To help protect your skin, consider a sun shirt and sunscreen.

Put a Shirt On

One of the most underrated things you can do to ensure that you are not overexposed to UV rays is to wear a shirt. We often wear sun-shirts, which keep us safe from the sun, wick away moisture and keep us cool. It's not unheard of to cover up with a shirt - especially if you've been at the beach all day or all week. You can find light weight shirts that wick away sweat and provide substantial protection from the sun. Knowing how to use sunscreen is also about knowing when you've had enough sun and need a little extra help to stay comfortable and healthy.

aqua colored beach service chairs and umbrella sitting on the beach with the Gulf of Mexico in the background
We've got you covered.

In Closing

We at Excel Beach Service want your vacation (and your staycation) at the beach to be incredible. Too many lobster red families leave the sugar white sands every single day, and we cringe to think of the pain in store for those folks that don't take the necessary precautions. We are here to help offer professional beach service along the coast from Santa Rosa Beach to Destin, and Perdido Key to Gulf Shores. We hope that this gives someone the information necessary to understand how use sunscreen better and prevents them from unnecessary discomfort.

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