The 4 best ways to NOT ruin your sunny vacation

Getting ready for your wintertime getaway at the beach?  Already dreading the inevitable sunburn and packing every available bottle of aloe?


As a born-and-raised Alaskan, I’ve spent many a winter month in sunny places to help stave off the “winter blues.” With every trip I used to face the same decision: zinc oxide or SPF 50. I hated both options. Zinc made me look like a 2-bit mime, and the high-octane sport cream would leave me  fretting over its “endocrine disrupting” effects. I’d head immediately to the beach to get some sand between my toes and salt water in my hair, only to arrive back at my hotel room 15 minutes later, red as a lobster.  The rest every trip would be spent hiding from the sun and nursing my burn with layer after layer of aloe. 


Sound familiar? Well, I’ve got some news for you.

I just returned home from 2 weeks in the hot Cuban sun, completely unscathed, thanks to a few easy tricks. I only brought one 3oz tube of sunscreen for my face on beach days, and returned with a tan, and plenty of leftover sunscreen for Mexico this January!

If there is hope for me, there is hope for you too. So try these 4 simple rules and enjoy the next pool-side mojito for me.


1.     Make sure that your vitamin D status is well within the normal range.  This may require testing if you don’t already know your levels. A standard “healthy blood level range” is between 30-100. For time in the sun, however, I’d recommend targeting ~70. It will take time to safely get your levels up, so don’t leave this for the very last minute.


2.     Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that acts like sunscreen from the inside. Take at least 8-12mg every day for the 2 weeks before you leave, as well as every day during your trip. This will protect your cells from the damage that solar radiation can cause. BioAstin is the brand that I use most because they make a good quality,high dose product.


3.     Stay well hydrated, inside and out. . The goal for an average day is ½ your body weight in fluid ounces. I know it sounds like a lot, but that’s 65oz for a 130lb person or 80oz for a 160lb person. Think about how much more you sweat when you’re walking around the streets of Havana or jogging the coastline on Maui. Be sure that you’re at least hitting that goal, but better to aim higher in hot climates. Also be sure to hydrate your skin everyday after sun exposure with a non-toxic lotion or oil. The rule of thumb I go by is this: If you would put it in your mouth it’s probably safe for your skin.


4.     Consider small doses of pre-tanning at a reputable salon, with good safe bulbs. People are often shocked when I mention this. “My doctor wants me to tan?!” But the truth is that it is better to get small, safe doses of UV than high burning doses out of nowhere in the middle of January. If you can get those melanocytes (pigmentation cells) out of hibernation and ready for the work ahead of time, they will be more efficient at protecting your cells when duty calls. Talk to the folks at the salon since all beds and bulbs are different, but a few minutes 1-3 times per week for 3-4 weeks is usually all you need. 


~ Dr. Laing

Abby Laing