One of the most important things to pack for your trip to Costa Rica is sunscreen. Costa Rica is a tropical country and it’s not too far from the equator – in fact it’s only 8 to 12 degrees north of the line so the weather here is hot and the sun is strong.
If there’s anything I tell my friends or family who come to visit me to watch out is for the sun. You really don’t want to get badly sunburned your first day here and spend the rest of the week in agonizing pain!
There are a ton of products for sunscreen/sunblock/sun protection out there and we’ve done our fair share of experimenting with them. Like we did with the mosquito repellent which is a must in Costa Rica, we’ve tested out a ton of different products to see which one worked for us and which one didn’t.
Here are our thoughts about the best sunscreen for Costa Rica (or any tropical/sunny destination). You can also see which sunscreens you’ll find in Costa Rica.
Please make sure to reapply constantly and don’t miss any spots. We went kayaking with a friend from Tennessee who forgot to put sunscreen on his upper thighs and after a couple hours out in the ocean, he looked like he had 2nd degree burns! It won’t matter if you grew up in LA or Florida, Costa Rica is super close to the equator so the sun is much stronger here.
Best Sunscreen for Costa Rica
So how does sunscreen work? The organic and inorganic chemicals in sunscreen filters ultraviolet radiation: UV-A (wrinkling, leathering, etc.), UV-B (burning) and UV-C so they don’t penetrate your skin as deeply.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor which basically tells you how long you can be under the sun without getting burned. Skin naturally has a SPF determined by your melanin so to see how long a sunscreen will work for you, multiple the SPF factor by how long it takes for you to get burned. For example if it takes you fifteen minutes to get burned and you use SPF 30, multiply 30 by 15 to get 450 minutes.
Sunscreen in Costa Rica:
Why do I suggest packing sunscreen? Well sunscreen here is one of the more expensive items in Costa Rica so if you can fit it in your case, bring it. (If you’re only bringing a carry-on you can only pack tubes less than 3.4 ounces.)
For example, a bottle of 180ml Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration SPF 50 in Costa Rica costs 10,200 colones which is roughly $19. On Amazon this exact bottle costs $9.99.
There are tons of sunscreens out there, here are some of our favorites. I prefer natural or organic sunscreens as much as possible because most sunscreens use Oxybenone, which is not only harmful to coral reefs but to humans as well. I also prefer lotions than sprays because I feel like I’m wasting a lot with the spray and I’ve accidentally gotten it in my eyes/mouth (I’m clumsy).
This is my all time favorite face and neck sunscreen. It was recommended to me by my best friend (thank you!!) before I moved to Costa Rica and two and a half years later I’m still using it to this day.
I love it because it feels light, it’s moisturizing and it’s created as naturally as possible with no parabens, no artificial fragrances, no Oxybenzone and no animal ingredients or testing. It seriously feels like you’re putting on a regular moisturizer instead of a sunscreen and you don’t feel like you’re wearing anything at all.
I love Trader Joe’s and their sunscreen, especially for dry skin.
My skin gets pretty dry here in Costa Rica and though I don’t use this on my face, the Trader Joe’s one moisturizes the rest of my body and protects it. I don’t suggest using this one if you have oily face skin since this one feels a bit greasy. This one has no smell, it’s light and it’s easy to rub in.
And yes, it actually was very water resistant. It didn’t seem to have run off at all!
This sunscreen uses 23% Zinc coverage, making it extremely safe to use. It feels a little greasy when you first put it on but rub it in well and you don’t feel anything.
Raw Elements is non-nano, organic and non GMO so if you’re concerned about using harmful products or chemicals, this is the best. It’s been rated the #1 sunscreen by the EWG and I wish I discovered it earlier!
They also have tinted sunscreen sticks and and a a facial moisturizer.
Coral Safe Sunscreen
If you plan to go in the ocean with sunscreen, PLEASE use coral safe sunscreen (mineral based). Many sunscreen ingredients such as Oxybenzone actually bleach and damage coral reefs. Cylcopentasiloxane/Cyclomethicone are 2 other ingredients in beauty products that has been proven to be toxic to the ocean organisms. In fact, there are some places in the world that actually ban the use of these harmful sunscreens and only allow mineral sunscreens. (I wish Costa Rica would too, hopefully one day).
The mineral sunscreens we like that are reef safe are Raw Elements, Stream2Sea and Sunology, none of them uses Oxybenzone. You will not find them in the stores here in Costa Rica so bring them. Kiss My Face also has a line of mineral sunscreens.
Other Sun Protection Methods
So as you can see Yeison and I use a lot of sunscreen since it’s a necessary item where we live. Besides lotions, we also have a couple other items to help protect us from the sun whether we’re sightseeing, surfing, laying by the pool or having a beach day.
I love rash guards and they’re great for more than just surfing. We wear ours when we’re snorkeling (to protect from the annoying stinging jellyfish), swimming or boating. We bought rash guards with SPF 50 in it and even after a year+ of use and washes, it is still protecting us from the sun. When we take it off, we can even see the lines!
This is a great option for those who are out in the ocean a lot and it saves from having to reapply sunscreen every so often. Just make sure you put sunscreen on your hands, back of your neck and other places the shirt doesn’t cover. We wrote a dedicated review to my O’neil rash guard here.
Have you ever burned your lips? It is really painful and it hurts every time you talk, eat or drink so be very careful to protect the skin of your lips which is much thinner than the rest of your body’s skin.
I bought two of these last time I was in the US and they have helped prevent any dryness or burn on my lips. You can find SPF chap stick at the pharmacies, not the supermarket. They sell a Banana Boat SPF 15 one.
Yeison has this exact shirt which he bought on Amazon and he loves it. It’s light, comfortable and a pretty good price for Columbia. This particular shirt has the Columbia Omni-Shade UV protection and protects against both UVA and UVB. He ended up buying 5 more of these exact shirts in different colors! Perfect for hikes in the jungles of Costa Rica.
It’s great because it’s basically sunscreen that you don’t need to reapply, it’s built in so all you have to do is put sunscreen on the areas that aren’t covered. It does run a bit big so you can even go a size down if you’re ordering it online. Yeison got a large and he could have definitely worn a medium.
I have a visor with SPF 30 which gives extra protection to my face. Mine is Marmot which I absolutely love but many of the outdoor brands have one.
Oh no! You got burned! If you didn’t bring anything for burns, you can find some after sun gels at the supermarket. They have gels and cooling creams to soothe your skin.
Yeison and I use this stuff like it’s crack even when we get slightly red. We love aloe vera products and the gel is soo soothing. We prefer gel than lotion since we like how it feels and it dries nice and fast. There are also after sun gels from Bioland and Ocean Potion. The aloe vera gel from Bioland is amazing, not just for burns but for moisturizing your skin.
Aloe vera has a ton of benefits for the hair and skin and I can vouch for it. Yeison has been using it since his early 20’s and he has the smoothest and nicest skin, not a single wrinkle or anything. I just started using it and hopefully my skin will be as nice as his!
Which one is the best?
It’s hard to say which is the best sunscreen for Costa Rica since everyone has different preferences and skin types but these are ours. We’ve used them all and love them. We’ve never burned using them, they are safe without oxybenzone or other chemicals and we like knowing that it’s not harmful when we go into the ocean. We try to be as eco-friendly and responsible as possible and we encourage you to do the same.
There are a ton of sunscreen/sunblocks out there but there isn’t a huge selection in Costa Rica, you won’t find any of the mineral based sunscreens here. Like I said before, it is more expensive here (nothing cheaper than 5-6,000 colones) so bring the one you like.
You’ll find these sunscreens in the supermarkets in Costa Rica: Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, Ocean Potion, Neutrogena, Bioland, Nivea, Australian Gold, NO-AD, California Tan, Bioland and Jergens.
Want more posts about traveling in Costa Rica? Here you go!
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