Why You’re Never Too Cool For Sunscreen

How many times in your life have you heard the warnings about applying sunscreen? Exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can cause skin cancer! Did you know that?!

Unless you’ve been buried under a rock for the last twenty years, of course you did. So why is it that so many of us still think we’re too cool for sunscreen?

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I hate to admit it, but more often than not, I’m that fair-skinned girl who thinks she doesn’t need sunscreen. I’m 25% Latina! What do I need that shit for?

Well, I’ll tell you.

I burn like a wildfire in July.

I could tell you all the stories of my past burn experiences – like the time I laid out on a cruise ship deck for four hours with no sun protection because it was still packed in my suitcase and then spent the rest of the trip limping around said cruise ship, wincing, for four days.

Instead, I’ll tell you about the burn that inspired this post.

Last week, I was in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I had two hours to kill before my shuttle bus left for La Fortuna, so I figured I would sit out on the gorgeous patio and work for a while. All of my stuff was packed and locked in the hostel closet for safe keeping, so I had no sunscreen or extra clothing to protect me. But hey – it’s cloudy! And it hardly even feels warm out! I’ll be fine.

Do I know that both of those statements didn’t mean anything? Absolutely. Did I know in that moment that I still had the potential to burn? Absolutely.

Did I get a sunburn? Absolutely.

I got THE sunburn. Like the sun ignored everyone else that day and just focused on me, for fun.

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Before it fully developed…

Long story short (okay no, I’m actually making this short story long…), I ended up with pretty horrible burns on both my arms and the back of my neck, as well as a weird phantom spot on my ankle. That doesn’t sound too bad though right?

It’s not…unless you’re constantly putting on and taking off heavy backpacks that scrape along your arms and neck as you move from destination to destination.

It’s not…unless your skin is so tight that paddling your kayak down the river in the rainforest goes from incredible to cruel and unusual punishment.

It’s not…until your kayaking partner gives you a congratulatory slap on the back right in the middle of your sunburn and you bite the hell out of your lips trying not to tear up.

It’s not…until you want to lay on the beach in Tamarindo and the SKIN ON YOUR ARMS BUBBLES UP AS IF IT’S BOILING AND YOU MIGHT BE DYING.

I’m not kidding…that last part actually happened. The burn had subsided but the skin hadn’t started to peel yet, and something in me was like, “Hmmm…this seems like a good time to go lay out in the sun! But hey, I’ll wear sunscreen this time!”

I did, and I didn’t get burned, but the weird bubbling phenomenon had me avoiding social contact with anyone for the rest of the day.

I’m going to spare you guys the photos…because I like you. But trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

So what’s the moral of this weird post?

When you’re traveling, it’s really easy to get caught up in the magic of your destination. The weather is beautiful, you have amazing views all around you, and your forget that you aren’t immune to life’s everyday annoyances (or, you know…skin cancer).

You may also forget that the sun can have different effects on your skin depending where in the world you are. For example, if you’re used to California sun, being closer to the equator and spending time in the Costa Rican sun may affect you differently. Maybe. Just throwing that out there.

Sunburns make for lovely travel photos, don't they?
Sunburns make for lovely travel photos, don’t they? Love at those sexy, splotchy arms!

Here are a few tips for checking yourself before you wreck yourself with a bad sunburn while traveling:

  • Pack your sunscreen in an accessible place. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world – and it is! Yet, time after time, I still find myself packing my sunscreen in the checked portion of my luggage, and find myself with times when I can’t access it. Pack a travel size in your carry-on and always keep it on your person. You never known when you’ll get stuck outside for a while and need it.
  • USE THE FREAKING SUNSCREEN. Again…sounds obvious right? It is! It’s easy to get lazy and think, “Meh, I probably don’t need this right now.” But you do. Trust me. You do.
  • Improvise, if necessary. I had a facial lotion in my carry-on that had 25 SPF, but I didn’t break it out while I was sitting outside because I didn’t want to “waste it.” (It’s a small bottle). Do you know how much pain I could have saved myself if I’d just slathered some of that on my arms instead of being worried about having to buy new face lotion at my next stop?
  • If you’re already burnt, don’t go back in the sun. Yes, you’re in Costa Rica and the weather is amazing, and there’s a beach 200 meters from your hotel. But really, do you want your skin to bubble up like bubble wrap? No. No, you don’t. The beach can wait. Let yourself heal.
  • Bring along aloe + some intense lotion. In the event that you don’t take any of the above advice, aloe and a shea-based lotion can help to relieve the tightness of a sunburn, and help your skin heal faster. Don’t leave these at home.

Wishing you many non-sunburned travel days! (And I’m wishing the same for myself, tbh).


What was the worst sunburn of your life? Let’s commiserate together! Let me know in the comments below!