Do I Need Sunscreen In Hawaii?

Do I Need Sunscreen In Hawaii?

Photo by moodboardSunscreen: it’s fun for the whole family.

YES, you will need sunscreen here – A LOT of it.

In a typical year, Honolulu will have 70% of days with sun. This is great for those of you on vacation and want a tan, but it also means that you’ll need proper protection against the sun’s ultra-violet (UV) rays, especially if you’re fair-skinned.

Photo by Andrew KuchlingOur hearts go out to all the sun-burnt tourists in Hawaii.

You might think that everyone knows about the importance of sunscreen, but not everybody has experienced the level of intense sunlight that Hawaii has. Because Hawaii is near the equator, the sun’s rays are a lot stronger here than in other places. If you walk around Waikiki on any given day, it’s very easy to see how many people were not prepared for the Hawaiian sun.

Here are 7 tips for using sunscreen in Hawaii:

1. Buy sunscreen here.

Buy sunscreen when you arrive here and finish it before you leave. This will save space in your luggage for more important things, like chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, souvenirs, or tacky aloha shirts. If you’re staying in Waikiki, there should be approximately 67,452 ABC stores near you that you can buy sunscreen from.

tacky aloha shirt
You’ll definitely want to make room in your luggage for some aloha shirts like this onePhoto by Ewen Roberts

2. Get SPF 15 or higher.

All sunscreen bottles have an SPF rating. This rating determines how much of the sun’s UV rays are blocked. Higher SPF = more blockage. The blockage isn’t proportionate to the SPF rating however. Take a look at this table for more info:

[table align=”center”]

SPF #, % of UV rays blocked*

4, 75%

15, 93%

30, 97%

50, 98%


*assumes you applied sunscreen properly

You can also find SPF ratings on low-SPF sun-tan lotion or makeup products, but keep in mind they are not as good as effective as sunscreen lotion if you’re going to be spending a full day at the beach. Whatever you use, remember that any SPF is still much better than using no sunscreen at all.

3. Lotion is the best.

There are 2 types of sunscreens: lotions and sprays. Sprays are convenient, but there are chemicals in it which are harmful if inhaled (source). This is a big concern if you have kids. Also, sprays are expensive, so that’s another great reason to use lotion only.

Photo by MichaelSunscreen lotion is also much more fun to play with.

3a. Avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palminate.

I read an article recently that stated oxybenzone and retinyl palminate in many sunscreen lotions might be absorbed by your skin and would be toxic to your health. The studies aren’t 100% conclusive though, because they were tested on mice (source). Better safe than sorry, right? Avoid buying lotions containing oxybenzone and retinyl palminate. Check out this article on Yahoo listing the “best” and “worst” sunscreens to buy, in regards to chemical safety.

4. Apply sunscreen properly.

To apply sunscreen lotion, pretend that your skin is a car and the sunscreen is car wax. Squirt out the sunscreen onto your hands and rub a generous layer onto your skin. For sunscreen to be effective, you will need a thick layer (rub it in until your skin is glistening!), so don’t be frugal with it. Have a friend help apply lotion to your hard-to-reach areas, such as your back.

A Local's Advice

Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears, around your neck, on your hands, and on the bottom of your feet (if you’re tanning on your front side). These places are places that most people forget about.

Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you go out and re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours. To avoid sunburns, have someone in your group bring a watch and keep track of when it’s time to re-apply sunscreen for everyone.

If you to plan to go swimming or if you sweat a lot, get “water-proof” or “water-resistant” sunscreen. Regular sunscreen will wash away when you go swimming.

applying sunscreen
Photo provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.netApplying sunscreen is so easy that you can do it with your eyes closed.

5. Use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy.

Some UV rays will be reflected by clouds and water, but some still get through. If it’s a little cloudy outside or if you plan to go swimming, you will still need sunscreen.

6. The sun is strongest from 10 to 2.

10am to 2pm is when the sun is strongest. This is the time span that I like to call “fry time.” Don’t let your guard down though – the sun at 4pm can still slow-cook you. As for seasonal changes, I feel that the mid-day sun is strong throughout the entire year in Hawaii. What I mean is that December’s sun will cook you just as much as the sun in July.

7. Know how to handle sunburns.

If you happen to get more sun than your skin can handle, you will get a sunburn. Sunburnt skin will be bright red. The area will be tender, blistered, and maybe itchy. The redness will go away in a couple of days. If the sunburn is severe, it may last longer and you will probably see your skin peeling in about a week :-?.

Photo by Emily HildebrandEmily is overcome with joy after discovering her new sunburn

How to treat sunburn

The main complaint about sunburns is pain. Find a lotion with aloe vera in it and rub it into your sunburnt skin. This will help with the discomfort. Aloe vera is generally used to treat wounds. Shower only with cool water (but not cold water). Do not shower with hot water, because it will exacerbate the pain.

If the sunburn is still making you uncomfortable, get some topical steroids, like 1% hydrocortisone, or use Tylenol to reduce the pain and/or swelling.

Don’t expose sunburnt skin to the sun. Wear a windbreaker or a long-sleeve shirt and wait for your skin to heal first. A sunburn is your body telling you that your body had too much sun, so don’t torture it by giving it even more sun.

Closing Thoughts

And that’s it for tips. Have fun and be smart. Get tanned, not toasted.

3 thoughts on “Do I Need Sunscreen In Hawaii?

  1. Good info! It’s amazing how many people come here to Hawaii and don’t sunscreen up…or don’t repeat the application every few hours. We see so many lobsters here.

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