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Sometimes when patients ask me if they need to avoid the sun because they’ve been diagnosed with a skin cancer, I tell them in a somewhat joking tone “Sunscreen works”.

We tested this on a recent family vacation to Hawaii.  We stayed at a hotel that has its own beach and spent 3-5 hours on the beach or in the pool everyday.  None of us got burned.  None of us even got a tan, which for a dermatologist’s family is ideal (for the same reasons that I avoid dentists with bad teeth or overweight nutritionists) .   We had a lot of fun and have no worries that we’ve increased our risk or our kids’ risk of skin cancer.

So how did we have this worry free, sun-filled vacation?

We used lots of sunscreen

We used Neutrogena Healthy Defense 85, Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Faces SPF 50+, and Coppertone Waterbabies Pure and Simple 50.  All of these are about $10 a bottle and can be purchased almost anywhere.  Here is why I picked these ones for my family:

  1. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch 85.  This provides excellent broad spectrum coverage and is a combination chemical and physical sunscreen that doesn’t feel heavy and junky.  It doesn’t leave a white residue, and is one of my favorite sunscreens, especially for the face.
  2. Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Faces SPF 45+.  This one also provides excellent broad spectrum coverage.  It does it without using any chemical sunscreens and instead relies entirely on zinc and titanium oxides.  I brought it with to use on our 7 month old, but on this trip I think it became my favorite sunscreen period because it is tear free.  This is great for the kids, but I also liked it.  The burn of sunscreen in the eyes is nasty, and this one doesn’t do that.  It also doesn’t have fragrance or dyes, is rather hypoallergenic, and holds up in the water for about an hour.
  3. Coppertone Waterbabies Pure and Simple 50.  This one is also tear free.  It is labeled as being hypoallergenic, but it does have parabens and a few other ingredients that would make me dispute that label.  It is a combination physical and chemical sunscreen.  It proved to be great in the water for the kids and for my wife and I.

Sun Protective Clothing

Coolibar.  This is actually the first trip that we have made where we used their products.  I must admit that I was a bit skeptical at first and wondered how dorky we (I) would look.  I’m now in love with the stuff and here is why:

  1. Kids don’t care what they are in, and it was so much easier to put them into their Coolibar head to toe swimsuits and just sunscreen up their faces, forearms, and feet.
  2. The Coolibar swimshirt I wore was surprisingly comfortable and dried really fast when I got out of the water.  If we’d done any snorkeling, I’m sure it would have saved my back from a burn.
  3. My wife thought the Coolibar swimpants she bought were nice on the beach because she could play on the sand with the kids and not worry about sand getting where she didn’t want it to. (Note from Johanna – “I also loved wearing clothing for sun protection because I didn’t have to wear sunscreen on my shoulders, arms, and legs, and did not have to feel STICKY all day”)
  4. Hats.  I hate how I look in a hat.  But my scalp and ears didn’t get burned, so it was worth it.  Our 3 year old really got into wearing hats, and became the “hat police,” making sure we were ALL wearing our hats before we left the room, and would throw a fit if we were not!

We went to Hawaii, we spent hours and hours on the beach, in the sun, even in the hottest parts of the day (which I was reluctant to do, but my wife talked me into it….) , and did not do any damage to our skin.   And – we all had a blast!  We challenge you on your next sunny vacation to NOT get a tan, and still have fun, it is totally possible!  Enjoy the sunshine!


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