To Tan or Not to Tan on Vacation

The question of whether to tan or not to tan on vacation can come up when deciding where to go. Some people plan trips around getting a tan and choose the sunniest spots while others try to avoid it like the plague. I’m in the middle, so I like sunny beaches, but always stay under an umbrella with sun-protective hats and clothing. In this post, we will be uncovering the best places to tan or not to tan on vacation based on latitude (distance from the equator), altitude, cloud coverage, and UV Index. 

What is the UV Index

UV INdex
Photo by EPA

The UV Index (UVI) numerically measures the amount of skin-burning ultraviolet radiation that reaches a given location. On average, a light-skinned person would burn within 30 minutes when experiencing a UVI of 6. A UVI of 12 would burn that same person in 15 minutes. Surface reflection and the sun’s angle also play a huge role in UV intensity. This is why snow reflection can nearly double the UV Index. On your next ski trip, remember that the high altitude, thin air, and snow reflection can combine to give you a nasty burn!

Typically, UV Index is highest in areas that are close to the equator and lower when you are closer to the north or south poles. For example, Panama typically has a UV index between 9 and 12 year-round. In St. Petersburg, Russia, the index ranges from 0 in the winter to 5 in the summer. However, there’s no need to limit your beach vacations to the Falkland Islands! Near the equator, humidity, ozone thickness, and the cloud coverage can help to disperse sunlight and decrease your chances of getting burned. 

UV Index

When You Don’t Want to Tan on Vacation

Tropical rainforest climates are hot and humid but you’re not getting a high UVI. This means that it takes longer to get a sunburn. Cloudy skies and luscious trees can help to prevent sunburned skin so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. You’re much more likely to get a sunburn during the summer in Sacramento, California than in Costa Rica. 

Beaches Without Much Risk of Sunburn

These can be great vacation spots when getting a suntan is not a big part of the equation:

Hawaii: Lihue, Honolulu, Hilo 

Africa: Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea: plenty of clouds and ecology 

Australia: Airlie Beach

New Zealand: Cropp River

Costa Rica offers two coastlines, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. With the intimate size of the country, you’re bound to find an excellent beach.

You may be as surprised as I was when coming up with this list. For example, when I think of Hawaii, I imagine sunny days, bikinis, and palm trees. However, Hawaii typically rains at night and has low-level clouds floating around during the day which act as protective shields from the sun. The cloud cover in Hawaii is a perfect place to have fun in the sun without the risk of sunburn.

tanning at the beachSun Protection Measures

Still deciding whether to tan or not to tan on vacation? Be sure that your outfit is lightweight and breathable to keep your core temperature under control and prevent heat-induced breakouts. Additionally, wear a hat that offers a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 50, if possible. UPF is different than SPF (Sun Protection Factor). UPF is a measurement of sun protection within a fabric and SPF is a way to measure protection offered by cream or lotion. For best results, use both to protect your skin.  

When it comes to sunscreen I usually recommend an SPF 30 since anything higher than that isn’t going to give you much more protection. However, when it comes to fabric, why not go as high as possible? The range of UPF is from 15-50+.

Beaches Perfect for Tanning

As you may imagine, there are thousands of gorgeous beaches which are perfect for tanning, but here is a handful to get you on your way:

Miami, USA

Jumeirah Beach, Dubai

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Frenchman’s Cove Beach, Jamaica 


Quick Sun Tip

You can tell a lot about the amount of sun exposure you’re getting by looking at your shadow. If your shadow casts a taller version of yourself then there isn’t much risk of UV exposure. Alternately, if you are taller than your shadow then you are at greater risk.


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Photo credits and thanks belong to @tomasalas and @antogabb

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