I am very fair with blond hair. As a teenager, I tried the spray-on tan stuff that just makes me look like a pumpkin. Despite all attempts at tanning, nothing can alter my two fundamental colors–pasty white and lobster red. This, however, did not prevent me from trying. That was, however, until one unforgettable vacation. We moved cross-country and got married in the month between medical school and the start of our internship. There was no time or money for any form of honeymoon. So, at the end of our internship, we splurged on a trip to Maui. I thought I had enough experience with sunburn to protect myself. Slathered in sunscreen, we off we went to my first snorkeling experience in the invitingly warm Hawaiian waters (at least compared to my prior Northeast Atlantic experiences.) First of all, let me assure you that sunscreen does not stay on indefinitely, no matter how water resistant. Second, being underwater does not prevent the sun from attacking you. Honestly, it really never dawned on me that lying face down, mesmerized by the multi-color fish would result in the back of my legs being sunburned. Let’s pause to acknowledge how stupid I was. Mea culpa! I could not bear to sit for a week. Undeterred by the pain, desperate not to ruin our delayed honeymoon, we drove the three hour road to Hana. Now stop to imagine me sitting on my coccyx with my feet on the dashboard so that the back of my blistered thighs did not touch the seat of the car. Ouch! Lesson learned.
After that, I wore scrubs to snorkel. Being a utilitarian, I thought this would be a great way to cover my legs. It worked to prevent sunburn but cotton scrubs are heavy when wet and don’t dry quickly. Battling the waves as you exit the water can be difficult enough without being weighed down by wet scrub bottoms.
We also love to sail Hobie Cats. The water spraying through trampoline of the Hobie is a great way to cool off. However, back to the fact that sunscreen is only so water resistant and only lasts so long. And, on a Hobie, there is no easy way to reapply it. Now, add the fact that my husband and kids can spend hours on a Hobie. The scrubs get wet and heavy. I had the brilliant idea of covering my legs with beach towels. Not a smart idea. When tacking (turning) the Hobie Cat, you have to move from one side of the boat to the other. Sopping wet bath towels weigh a ton and can be used as a weapon when I fling them across the boat to get them out of my way to move to the other side of the boat.
I am finally at a point in life where I have realized that suffering with a severe sunburn is not worth it. Lobster red is not sexy. And making everyone miserable because you have the shaking chills and pain from the burn does not enhance anyone. But I love to be in the sun. When we go to a tropical destination, I use enough sunscreen that it takes up its own small carryon. I wear a rash guard on the beach and in the water. I found rash guard pants that dry quickly for snorkeling and sailing. And, of course, a hat. Even my olive-skinned, easy to tan husband has adopted my sun-worshipper attire. My kids sometimes complain that we look like dorks. However, as young adults who are smarter than their parents, they have each recently had their own sunburn, outing-ruining, experiences. So much so that my 21 year old asked us to buy her an SPF 50 shirt for sailing and my 25 year old told us he was going to buy sunscreen for his upcoming weekend trip to the beach.
I have absolutely no financial benefit from any recommendation. That said, I buy my rash guard and rash guard pants from Lands End. They have big sales multiple times a year including 50% off. Wait for the sale. Columbia has excellent quick dry SPF 50 fishing shirts. My husband currently has Speedo rash guards–which come in a crew neck and a mock turtleneck. The mock turtleneck is a great way to protect your neck when you can’t wear a hat. In the end, I usually wear a hat because it offers better protection and does not run into my eyes and burn like the face sunscreens. Probably my most compelling reason for a hat though is the scalp sunburn and consequence. A peeling scalp sunburn looks like the world’s worst cast of dandruff.
Next time you see a woman on the beach decked out in a wide brim hat, long sleeve rash guard and long pant rash guard, it’s probably me. Be sure to stop and say hi. And know that I may look ridiculous but I am insuring my trip to the beach is a blast.