Finding the Best Sunscreens for a Cruise

Woman applying suntan lotion on a boat.
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The sunscreen you bring on your cruise will dictate how well you enjoy your time at sea. If you bring a sunscreen that contains too little SPF (sun protection factor), you will likely spend your time nursing a bad sunburn. If you don't bring a sunscreen type that is "ocean-friendly," then you may be turned away from shore excursions as some sunscreens are banned. If you do bring sunscreen with an appropriate SPF and one that is environmentally friendly, it will be one less thing to worry about.

Choosing the Right SPF

SPF is available in levels from 2 to 60. Higher levels don't always equal better protection, however. An SPF of 50 only provides about 1% more protection than an SPF of 30. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing an SPF of 30 or higher for maximum protection. The amount of protection you need depends on how sunny it usually is, which is found in the UV index rating for a location. Most cruise destinations have high UV index ratings, so be sure not to skimp on the SPF levels.

If you have children joining you on your cruise, you may want to consider buying them a different sunscreen for their personal use. You will want to consider the SPF level, their sensitivity to sunscreens, and what formula is easiest to apply (sprays, sticks, lotions, etc).

Waterproof Versus Water-Resistant

Sunscreens that don't easily wash off in the water are a must for a cruise. You may notice some labels say "waterproof" and others are labeled "water-resistant." The FDA does not condone the use of the "waterproof" label for sunscreens because all sunscreens will wash off. Any product describing itself as "water-resistant" must be tested according to FDA procedure. Such products must state whether they are effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Brands vary, so read the label to determine how often you need to reapply.

The Facts About Biodegradable Sunscreen

Onshore excursions and some destinations require that you use a special type of sunscreen that is biodegradable. Whenever we go swimming with sunscreen on, the chemicals from the sunscreen contaminate the ocean water, potentially causing damage to coral and other sea life. If you do not have biodegradable sunscreen at some destinations, you will not be allowed to participate in the water excursions. 

UVA or UVB Protection

You will notice that some sunscreens offer protection against UVA, UVB, or both of these types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays are light waves from the sun that we cannot see or feel, but they can damage our skin. Both UVA and UVB can cause wrinkles, premature aging, sagging skin, and worst of all, skin cancer.  Choose a sunscreen labeled "broad-spectrum," as it will provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Bottom Line

You want to choose a sunscreen that is:

  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Water-resistant (if you are spending a lot of time in the water)
  • Broad-spectrum to protect against UVA and UVB rays
  • Biodegradable for sea excursions at certain destinations
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Article Sources

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  1. Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the Expert: Does a High SPF Protect My Skin Better?

  2. FDA. Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. Updated August 29, 2019.

  3. The Skin Cancer Foundation. UV Radiation & Your Skin.