Sunscreen for Surfing (That Doesn’t Sting)

Sunscreen might be one of the most important pieces of your surfing toolkit.

Unless you want to be cooped up inside nursing some radiation poisoning and missing out on surf, you’re going to want to get yourself some good sunscreen.

The best sunscreen for surfing is going to be something that is:

  • Water resistant for at least an hour or so.
  • At least 30 SPF.
  • Environment, ocean, and reef friendly.
  • Something that won’t run into your eyes and sting.
  • Something that doesn’t feel gross or greasy on your skin.

If you’re wearing a wetsuit, your options are pretty simple – find something good for your face, neck, and ears.

If you’re surfing somewhere with warm water, you’ll want to make sure the rest of your skin is protected too.

From session to session it might seem inconsequential, but in the long run, you’re going to be happier with your past-self for having used a proper sunscreen while you surf.

A few simple things go into choosing the right sunscreen to wear while you surf, they include:

  • Protection from UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Waterproofyness.
  • Whether or not its going to sting and blind you if it gets in your eyes.
  • Ocean-friendliness.

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The Best Surfing Sunscreen

The best sunscreen for surfing is something that’s going to prevent sunburn, protect against skin cancer, last for a long time in the water, and won’t hurt your eyes or the environment.

There are 2 main categories of sunscreens: physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.

Physical sunscreen, often called mineral sunscreen, sits on top of the skin and reflects the UV rays away. These are made out of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Chemical sunscreens soak into the sink and work to absorb UV rays. Chemical sunscreens contain different chemicals designed to absorb different types of UV radiation. These are also the category of sunscreen that’s been found to be harmful to reefs and ocean-life. The chemical oxybenzone and octinoxate are some of the ingredient to avoid, both of which have been linked as contributors to coral bleaching.

When shopping for sunscreen for surfing look for:

  • Sunscreen that do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.
  • Mineral sunscreens made from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Ingredients classified as non-nano, which cannot be absorbed by coral.
  • That include reef-safe labels.
  • An SPF of at least SPF 30.
  • Sunscreen that specifies water resistance.
  • Something that won’t run or sting your eyes – this might require some testing and personal preference.

How to Apply Sunscreen Before a Surf

For sunscreen to be most effective, you’re going to have to apply it properly.

Mineral sunscreens are going to start working immediately as you apply them. However, mineral sunscreens will lose effectiveness when they’re wiped off.

Chemical sunscreens need some time to be absorbed by the skin to start working. You’ll need to wait a little bit before getting into the water. If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, it might help to apply it before you leave for a surf and again before you suit up.

Regardless of water resistance, you should reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours if you’re going to be outside all day.

Surf Sunscreen Application Tips

To get the most protection from your sunscreen, most manufacturers recommend:

  • Applying at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Apply liberally to all skin that will be exposed to the sun.
  • Reapply after about 80 minutes of surfing, after using a towel, and about every 2 hours.

To help avoid being exposed to higher levels of UV, experts recommend:

  • Wearing hats and long-sleeved clothes.
  • Limiting your time in the sun overall and especially between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.

Sunscreen vs. Sunblock

Sunscreens can be classified broadly as sunscreen or sunblock.

Sunblock, like many mineral-based sunscreens, protects your skin by forming a physical barrier that blocks UVB rays.

Sunscreen is designed to absorb into your skin and uses chemicals to absorb UVA radiation that hits you.

It’s a good idea to find a sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF that will help protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunblocks and most mineral sunscreens will often leave a visible layer on your skin. Sunscreen will often go on clear.

Surf Hats

Whether you’re sitting on a log in Lake Pacific waiting on something to come through on one of those 1 foot summer days or you’re duck-diving through non-stop sets in some tropical location, a surf hat will serve you well for extra sun protection.

The best surf hat is one that:

  • Protects you from sun burn.
  • Stays out of your way when you paddle, duck dive, surf, and wipeout.
  • Either floats, has a strap, or some sort of leash.
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