What’s In My Suitcase: UPF for Beach Destinations

We just returned from a fabulous seven-day trip to Jamaica. Many times people ask me, “how do you vacation in Jamaica with all of that sunshine?” Being able to continue living a normal and active life while also being sun safe is the basis of Sunality, so I felt a post on “what’s in my suitcase?” could be helpful.

Our Jamaica trip is pretty easy going. While we are technically in Jamaica, it could really be any beach destination in the world. A typical day is compiled of eating, time at the beach, time at the pool, a work out, lots more eating and the requisite pina colada (or three). The key to survival is having interchangeable pieces that can get you from day to night, beach to dinner and everything in between. I accomplish this with a few layering pieces.

That being said, I pack for three major categories: beach/swim, working out and day clothing. I have positioned these items in my infographic along these same categorical lines (left to right).

UPF 50 Packing for the Beach



This one is the easiest category as the UPF clothing market has really ramped up over the last few years. It is relatively easy to find cute and sexy styles to layer over the traditional one-piece or bikini. With the layering piece, I really prefer to wear bikinis because it allows you to keep one UPF rashguard but make it look different everyday by switching out the bikini bottom. Additionally, since the rash guard is already covering up most women’s trouble spot in the middle, by using the bikini bottom, you can skip the whole, “how do I pee in a one piece” drama.

Round Hill Beach Shade

Our usual spot on the beach at Round Hill Resorts. Shade trees and umbrellas for guests.

For sun protection at the beach, it is my goal to get from the house to the beach while covered and then once on the beach, use a tent, umbrella or lovely shade tree to provide the extra protection. That way I can still hang out in a normal bathing suit and play with the kids in the sand without overheating or looking super weird. Of course if we move to the water, I add a layer of a surf shirt or a UPF cover up for walking the beach. Top either off with a hat and sunglasses and the sunscreen you should have applied 30 minutes prior to hitting the beach, and you can go for a week long beach vacation and return home the same lovely shade of pale as you left.

For a rashguard, make sure it has long sleeves, a high neck with adjustable neckline via zipper or buttons and make sure it is UPF 50. Since these shirts are now “instyle” you have to be very careful that you are buying function and not just fashion. Also, an adjustable length is nice. Many surf shirts are now being cut short so you can show a little tummy. Not ideal when you are looking for complete sun protection.

For a cover-up, while most clothing does offer some sun protection don’t bet on your t-shirt or lacy cover-up to help you out. Look for something that is a UPF 50 and long-sleeved with some length to CYA (cover your “ass”ets). Water friendly also makes things easier if you are boating and need a piece to do both dry and wet sun protection.   In theory, the neckline should be high, but I find that keeping the chest exposed allows your body to breath and better regulate your temperature on hotter days. Make sure you have a hat or extra sunscreen so you can still keep the chest area protected.



Athleta UPF 50 Running Gear

My UPF 50 running attire for the Chicago Marathon. Top and capris by Athleta.

This area is also pretty easy to accomplish. My go-to for UPF 50 work-out gear is Athleta. Their styles are great. They function really well as work out gear and they also wash well. I have had one pair of their “Relay Capris” for almost three years now and they have taken me through two 25Ks and the Chicago Marathon. I still run in them twice a week. After all of that use they still perform like the day I bought them. Athleta also consistently offers their UPF 50 wicking fabrics in long sleeve run tops. These are a must if you are a long distance runner. They give total upper body coverage but still allow your skin to breath. I purchase them in light bright colors which work all year round for temperature management and safety when out on long stretches along country roads. The easiest way to shop the UPF 50 offerings on Athleta is to just enter that phrase in the search box. It will bring up anything they sell that has UPF 50 in the description. Or just click here and I have done the work for you. 

In Jamaica, it can be challenging to work out in capris and long sleeves, so I will mix it up. I usually prefer to cover my upper body and wear shorts on the bottom. This allows the more delicate skin of the chest and arms to be covered while letting my skin breath at the legs. Also, it seems like the legs are an easier place to apply sunscreen, which makes keeping them exposed a bit easier to manage.  Another easy add are UV arm bands.  This way I mix a UPF short sleeved shirt with capris and use the arm bands to protect my skin but allow the arms to breathe a bit more.  Additionally the arm bands are made to cool your skin faster than if they were uncovered.  Arm bands are also great for those who enjoy biking or golfing because you can take them off and easily store them if you are overheating.

Don’t forget a visor. I love the visor because it covers my face but doesn’t trap the heat at the top of my head. When running outdoors in heat, it is all about letting heat escape where possible to help the body better regulate. The head is key for this. If you have thick hair, it is easy to wear a visor and trust the back of your scalp will be protected. If you are balding, then don’t forget to rub some sunscreen on that gorgeous dome.

A great pair of athletic sunglasses is also important. Long stretches of outdoor running can offer very little to no shade. Melanoma can develop inside of your eyes, so a UV protection of your eyes is just as important as your skin, especially if you are of the blue, green or hazel disposition. My favorites are Oakleys. Expensive yes, but I have owned the same pair for five years (much to my husband’s amazement). They make great styles that are lightweight, durable, customizable and easy to get in a prescription.

Sunscreen must be “sweat proof” and don’t forget about the burning of the eyes. I usually use a Coppertone sport, but if you are an avid reader, you know I am dismayed by how their new formula turns everything brown. In the meantime, I have been using the Coppertone Babies “no tears” formula and it seems to be working great.


Day Clothing:

This category gets a bit trickier. I still consider myself a young and lively woman who likes to look nice when she goes out in public. This can be a challenge when faced with many of the styles of current day UPF clothing. I feels like the designs are all for women who lounge or don’t want to show off any kind of shape. The styles really haven’t evolved with the disease’s growth rates. Today, Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old*.  There is major market growth in UPF fashion retail and no one meeting the trends that make this age group look great and feel protected. Never the less, I have found a few favorites that seem to walk the balance. Please realize I’m not saying these are trendy, but I feel they give me protection without screaming “ugly, functional clothing!”

UPF 50 Daywear by Sunality

Coolibar ZnO Sun Wrap with Oliver Peoples Sunglasses and Target hat.

Athleta can be a great resource if you are into the “lounge casual” look. They offer sun protection across all categories: dresses, pants, tops, etc. I love their stuff for casual day wear, but if you want to step it up a bit, I always rely on some Coolibar pieces. The ZnO Sun Wrap comes in a ton of colors and can be worn open, wrapped or belted. It goes with almost any dress or pant combo because of the easy cotton material and flowing lines. They also now make it in fun patterns for more of a beach cover-up look and a cropped style for a more casual look. Another new item is the Boatneck Tunic, which I reviewed in an earlier post. It provides a nice casual sophistication and can really be altered based on how you pair it and accessorize it.

I am still searching for more and when I find fun and functional styles, I will update you immediately. The key to day clothing dressing is to use normal clothes and then pack the sun protective layer. That way you can’t be caught off guard with the sun and you won’t have to walk around smelling like sunscreen.

Have fun with the sunglasses and hats in this category. I love the wide selection of hats you can find at places like Target. The prices are great and you can play with different looks. Sunglasses can make or break a look. For those of you with perfect eyesight or those who wear contacts you can afford to invest in multiple styles and options. My go to brands are Oliver Peoples, Ray-Ban, Kaenon, Persol and Tom Ford. All of these brands are fashion forward, offer multiple styles and provide great quality that will last the test of time. If you are like me and need prescription sunglasses, don’t forget you can claim these as a medical expense on your taxes and can also use your HSA money to buy them. Try to develop a plan on what you need and then go after a pair a year. Take care of them and they will last.

I hope you have found something helpful in my suitcase. Remember if you are smart and safe you can still have sandy toes without the guilt. Bon Voyage!


Author: sunality

I am a mother of two and survivor of a very scary malignant melanoma diagnosis. I was diagnosed in my early thirties. Since that day, I have been working to change my lifestyle and incorporate sun blocking effective products into my daily life to create a new reality of living in the sun... my "sunality." I want to pass along this information to others who are facing the same lifestyle changes and challenges. You can still live a normal life and protect yourself from the deadly effects of the sun.

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