How to Prep Your Skin For Spring Break

Now that spring is officially here, there's little we've been thinking of besides spring break. Dreams of warm beaches and sunshine provide solace from cold, dreary classrooms, and give us motivation to push through those midterms.

If you’re actually lucky enough to be taking a trip somewhere warm this year, it’s time to start thinking about your skin. Especially after a winter spent indoors, you’ll need to give your skin a little extra TLC to ensure adequate protection while soaking up those rays. 

1. Use SPF 30 or higher—and re-apply!

It’s simply not enough to spritz on some SPF 15 just so you can say you did. Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU and Vice President of the Skin Cancer Foundation, recommends applying a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to the entire body, being sure to wait about 20 minutes for it soak in before going outside. "Best to do this naked to get the areas that may be under your bathing suit,” says Dr. Hale. It’s also important to reapply if your spending all day outside, and especially if you’re swimming or sweating.

But don’t forget your face! Renee Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician, recommends "both a sunscreen cream followed by an SPF powder." There are also some great moisturizers with SPF that are soothing and smooth on the face, without the greasy feel of traditional sunscreen. Try Clinique Sunscreen Face Cream, which also happens to have a lovely, fresh scent, or a super lightweight serum from Supergoop!

2. A faux tan won’t protect you from burning

Unless you happen to go to school in Southern California, chances are you’re feeling about as pale as a vampire by the time spring break rolls around. If you want to get a head start on your golden glow, a spray tan can be a safe option, but only if you still take precautions. "One must realize that these artificial tans do not contain any sun protection," says Dr. Hale.  "Your skin is still able to burn despite having this 'base tan'." In addition, if you like using a tanning oil to help achieve an even color, be sure that you either apply sunscreen as well or use an oil with built-in SPF. Sun Bum Tanning Oil is one example, but keep in mind these products usually only come in SPF 15, so a little extra protection is still necessary.

And don’t even think about hopping under a tanning bed. Not only are they likely to increase your risk of skin cancer, but "contrary to popular belief, tanning beds do NOT make the skin less likely to burn," says Dr. Peggy Fuller, a board-certified dermatologist and director of Esthetics Center for Dermatology.

3. Know your skin type, and plan ahead

While everyone should wear sunscreen before going outside regardless of skin tone, there are some who should take extra precaution. "The people with lower amounts of natural melanin, i.e. those with blonde or red hair, light skin, and light eyes are at greatest risk,” says Dr. Hale. “This is because melanin is protective so people of darker skin types have some degree of natural protection." In addition, different skin types may give way to damage in different ways. Rouleau notes that "dry, sensitive and aging skin is most susceptible damage," which could appear in the form of redness or brown spots. Of course, those with very pale, porcelain skin or a tendency for rosacea will likely develop more redness. "With fair skin types, a burn can occur in as little as 20 minutes," says Rouleau.

For a skincare routine that is more tailored to your tone, look for products that are geared toward your needs. If you also have sensitive skin, there are particular ingredients you should look out for as well. Rouleau notes that physical sunscreens with "active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide" are "much better for sensitive skin… since it deflects the heat and energy given off by the sun away from the skin."

4. Invest in a rash guard or sun-protective shirt

Dr. Fuller is a big advocate for the rash guard! "Rash guards are really cool tops that have UVA/UVB protection built in," she says. "I have rash guards in bright and beautiful colors that not only protect the skin I’m in but look smashing and flattering."

A rash guard is a great way to ensure extra protection, especially when you are in the ocean and sun exposure is the greatest. If you’re hesitant about ditching your bikini, don’t be. Rash guards are on trend and will give off that effortless, surfer-girl vibe. Dr. Hale recommends checking out J. Crew and Mott50 for a stylish selection.

5. Adjust your diet

Healthy skin has as much to do with what you put inside your body as what you put on the outside. The first step toward building a glowing complexion is to hydrate properly. Dr. Fuller recommends that you "start hydration early (and) drink lots of water" before your spring break trip. Fuller gives another important and under-acknowledged spring break tip: "Don’t combine alcohol and the beach." Not only is it a recipe for severe hydration, but you’re more likely to overdo sun exposure or forget to reapply sunscreen if you're a little tipsy.

For even more protection, Dr. Hale suggests adding in a supplement. Omega-3s and Vitamins D and C can boost skin health, while "some essential oils and even caffeine may afford some additional sun protection," says Dr. Hale. Studies have shown that drinking coffee can actually reduce the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which is the most common type of skin cancer. Keep in mind though that coffee can be dehydrating, so make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day.

6. Build healthy skin with a top-notch routine

Besides layering on the sunscreen, there are many steps you can take to prepare your skin before long hours spent outdoors. Rouleau also suggests "a natural skin lightener" like "magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a type of vitamin C," applied daily under sunscreen. A lightener "will help suppress melanin cells to fade and prevent brown spots," she explains.

It may also be beneficial to start preparing your skin for prolonged periods of sun exposure by catching a few extra rays in the weeks leading up to spring break. The most damage often occurs when you jump into a day of sun-drenched fun after months of very little exposure. "It happens because the skin has not yet developed a tolerance to the sun, which is something that often occurs by the end of the summer," says Dr. Hale. Sun damage can occur after only 20 minutes of exposure, particularly if your skin has not yet adjusted from a winter spent indoors. Make sure you’re well prepared by aiming to get 10 minutes of sun exposure each day in the time leading up to spring break.

Proper skin care is an invaluable skill that will have lifelong rewards. Dr. Hale, VP of the Skin Cancer Foundation, stresses the importance of skin protection from an early age. “Exposure to the sun is responsible for 90 percent of skin cancer and percent of the signs of premature skin aging,” she says. By protecting your skin during your spring break adventures, you’ll not only be able to enjoy the fun without the pain of a burn, but you’ll also be setting the foundation for a life of healthy, happy skin.