Tips for a healthy, safe family beach vacation

Family beach vacations are among the most popular vacation choices. Though making memories and having fun is the goal, keeping your family healthy and safe while at the beach is also important. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Protect your family’s skin from sunburn

A sunburn isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s potentially harmful. With each sunburn, you increase your chance of developing skin cancer. Sunburns also cause brown spots and wrinkles at an earlier age.

While it’s possible to avoid sunburn by staying in the shade or wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunscreen is your family’s best bet for sunburn protection. Everyone should wear sunscreen when out in the sun, from babies to adults.

How to choose sunscreen for your family

Buying sunscreen for a family can be confusing. Manufacturers often market their products by age group — babies, kids and adults. But whether you’re an infant or a dad, everyone needs a sunscreen with these three basic features:

  • Broad-spectrum coverage (protects from both types of sun rays — UVA and UVB)
  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Water-resistant formula

Next, when choosing between a mineral sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen, here’s what to know:

  • Mineral sunscreens are made from natural minerals. You can know that a sunscreen is mineral-based if it contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both.
  • You can identify a chemical sunscreen if it contains ingredients such as avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene or oxybenzone. 
  • Some sunscreens are a mix of minerals and chemicals.
  • Chemical sunscreens must be applied 15-30 minutes before sun exposure. Mineral sunscreens provide immediate protection.
  • Historically, mineral sunscreens have been known to leave a “white cast” on the skin. But several manufacturers now offer mineral sunscreens that don’t do this.

Some parents say they prefer mineral sunscreens over chemical ones for their children, because all mineral formulas automatically provide broad-spectrum coverage. Mineral sunscreens also tend to be less irritating to children with sensitive skin. However, chemical sunscreens are just as effective at protecting your child’s skin as long as they’re labeled as broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, water-resistant, and applied as directed.

How to put on sunscreen

No matter the age, everyone in your family should apply sunscreen the same way:

  • Even if you’re using a mineral sunscreen, which provides immediate protection, still apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun.
  • Use enough sunscreen to fully cover the body — about a shot-glass full amount for teenagers and adults and around half that amount for young children.
  • Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into the skin, covering all exposed areas.
  • Ask for help covering your back or other hard-to-reach areas.
  • Babies, children and adults with thin hair should protect their scalp with sunscreen or a hat.
  • Reapply at least every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

What about spray sunscreens? Most dermatologists recommend sunscreen lotions and creams over spray sunscreens. Spray sunscreens can protect your family’s skin from sunburn, but dermatologists say they’re often not applied correctly. Spray sunscreens can also be dangerous if inhaled.

Always watch children around water

You know you need to watch young children who can’t swim or who aren’t strong swimmers. But did you know that teenage boys are also at a high risk for drowning? A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says teenage boys are 10 times more likely to drown than teenage girls. Reasons for this include over-confidence in swimming ability and more risk taking.

Here are some more swim safety points you may have never considered:

  • Life jackets and other personal flotation devices (PFDs) can help children keep their heads above water, but they also may create a false sense of security.
  • Many younger children don’t fully understand that their life jacket helps them float. This may lead them to accidentally enter a pool or body of water without their life jacket.
  • Approximately half of drownings occur when a pool is busy, and 23 percent [N3] of child drownings happen during a family gathering near a pool.

With so many variables at play, all families should understand that nothing can substitute for the close, constant and attentive supervision of a capable adult when children are in or around water.

Even when your child is wearing a life jacket and there’s a lifeguard on duty, stay close and watch them constantly.

Get to know the rules of the beach

Before you hit the beach, learn these important safety guidelines.

Flag warning system

Many beaches in the U.S. use a flag warning system to notify beachgoers of hazards in the water or on the beach. Common flags used include:

    • Yellow. A yellow flag means that a moderate surf and/or currents are present. Weak swimmers should consider not entering the water.
    • Red. A red flag means that rough conditions such as a strong surf and/or currents are present. A red flag may also indicate sharks in the water. All swimmers should consider not entering the water.
    • Double red. Double red flags mean that the water is closed to the public. Do not enter the water.
    • Purple. A purple flag means jellyfish, stingrays, sea snakes or other marine life that can cause minor injuries (not including sharks) are present in the water.

Flags are typically flown on public beaches. If you’re vacationing on a private beach, you can learn which flags are flying in the local area by checking the daily beach report. Daily beach reports are usually posted on the local town’s tourism website or social media platforms.

Flags often change from day to day, so be sure to check the beach report every day.

Rip currents

There are many things to consider before deciding to swim in the ocean. Even with a lifeguard on duty, there are risks. Even strong swimmers can struggle, especially when conditions are rough.

Other than wearing a life jacket, another way to protect yourself and your family when swimming in the ocean is by learning how to spot rip currents. Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can move you far out into the ocean very quickly.

Signs that a rip current are present include:

  • Debris on the surface of the water that’s floating away from the beach
  • Churning of the ocean floor
  • No waves

If you spot a rip current, your family should not swim in the water

If you get caught in a rip current:

  • Do not try to swim to shore.
  • Swim parallel to shore until you escape the current.
  • Then, swim back to land at an angle.


Beaches and water don’t provide protection from lightning. Neither do tents on the beach.

Even if a thunderstorm looks to be far out in the ocean, check the radar to confirm how far away it is. Experts generally recommend that beachgoers leave a beach and take shelter from a thunderstorm when it moves within 10 miles of the beach.

However, lightning can strike when a storm is up to 20 miles away. If you hear thunder and can’t be sure how far away a storm is, move your family inside until you’re sure the storm has passed.

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This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.