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The Ultimate Sun Protection Guide

The Best Surfer Sun Protection

The sun will seriously mess you up if you're not careful. It's been engraved in our heads our whole lives, but as surfers, we must remain extremely diligent to take sun protection seriously. It is essential to speak on the importance of sunscreen and protecting yourself from the damaging consequences of UV rays.

Sun protection does not have to be difficult and it literally takes ten seconds of your time before jumping into the water, but it does come in many different forms. Let's get into all the available options of sun protection for surfers, the pros and cons, and exactly what the best choice for you might be. Because some sunscreens can be as equally as harmful to your health as the sun itself, you must weigh your options accordingly!

Quickly jump ahead to the sections, using the following links:





Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

When it comes to cosmetic sunscreens that you put on your skin, zinc oxide is one of the most effective in terms of protection from the rays that make it down to Earth while you're hanging out in the lineup.

Zinc oxide is the chemical compound ZnO, (zinc and oxygen) and it comes from a mineral. And that is exactly why zinc oxide is one of the best sunscreens for surfers. Mineral sunscreens are considered physical sunscreens, a heck of a lot different (and safer!) than chemical sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreens simply block and deter the sun's rays to protect your skin; the right way to go about sun protection. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb the sun's harmful rays while still on your skin. Not the best bet, I'd say.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration actually deemed every type of sunscreen, other than zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as not safe for your body, so in the end, you really don't have a choice if you're looking out for your well being and future self. And as the ocean lovers we are, these chemicals are reef safe and not known to promote coral bleaching.

Zinc oxide usually comes in a paste-like material that is meant for your face and neck. Simply lather it on the exposed areas, focusing on your nose, face, ears, hands, feet and back of the neck for optimal sun protection.

If you are totally skinning it, then you want to of course hit your entire body with some form of reef-safe zinc spray. Chest, shoulders, back, legs. You get the idea.

Pro Tips

When it comes to applying sunscreen, we love some of these fine words from Julian Wilson.

“I like to keep it messy!”

Seriously, just lather that stuff on everywhere to ensure that you hit every bit of your precious skin. Go crazy with it, as your face and neck see plenty of sun and could use the extra protection.

“Wiping it off on my towel from my hands.”

Sunscreen can make your hands slippery when you grab your rails, and following his tip will help to keep you from slipping on your rails when duck diving or popping up. Let some sunscreen dry on your hands so they are safe from the sun, and then wipe any remaining residue away so they aren't too slippery.

“Sunscreen away from wax.”

Your sunscreen can interfere with the effectiveness of your wax, so just be sure to wipe your hands off then let the sunscreen dry for a moment before surfing. Keep it away from your boards when waxing and lathering up.

If you're looking for the best sun protection for surfers with a focus on your face (watch out for those wrinkles!), then Zinc Oxide is simply the way to go. Just make sure to re-apply every couple of hours into your session.

And don't complain about paddling in. If you're out in the water that long you need to hydrate anyway!

Surfer’s Lip Sun Protection

Crusty, dry and sunburned lips are painful, difficult to heal, and oftentimes just don't look the best. Surfer’s lip is bound to happen when you spend endless hours in the water and under the sun, but there are plenty of ways we can prevent it to look out for the health of our lips.

When lathering your face, you can definitely rub some of your sunscreen into your lips. But for the best protection, use a zinc based lip balm of at least SPF 30+. This helps with absorption into your lips for better protection, and can act as a great base layer of sunscreen to anything else you rub into your lips.

And to help surfer’s lips along the way, after you surf maintain consistent moisture, as lip protection doesn't just happen when you are surfing. For the overall longevity of your skin, specifically skin cancer prone lips, you should use a sun protection lip balm any time you go outside and not just when in the water.

This lessens the effects of your long, sun exposed surf sessions and is simply a good idea regardless, as the sun can seriously kick your butt.

Shirts and Rash Guards

When it comes to sun protection for surfers, the truth is that any protection is always better than none. We spend a ton of time in the water, so the small things add up.

So if it's a shirt or nothing, go for the shirt.

That being said, normal cotton clothing does not offer the best protection from the sun, especially when soaking wet and of a lighter color. Not only that, these materials oftentimes leave you with some nipple pain to deal with.

If you're in a climate where you can easily skin it and feel great, then you should really think to do your skin a favor and toss on an SPF rated rash guard. Rash guards, also known as “rashies”, act like sunscreen for surfers and can offer complete protection from the sun should you wear one that is at least 30+ SPF.

Plus, they also help keep your chest free and clear of board rub.

The truth is that there's really no good reason not to wear a rash guard. Melanoma loves to pop up on shoulders that have caked under the sun, and literally, the only way to prevent this is to protect yourself from the UV rays. A rash guard is a great solution.

All you have to do is toss a rash guard on your back before paddling out and you're looking out for yourself in the present (sunburn) and the future (dermatology issues) so that you can surf without age doing you in.

Wetsuits as Sun Protection



If you live in cold water climates, then you're honestly pretty lucky because wetsuits act as guaranteed sun protection for surfing.

Wetsuits are a need, and when you really do need them, you usually can't surf without them. And because of this, there's literally no way around the fact that you are simultaneously putting on sun protection!

Wherever there's rubber, your skin should be pretty safe from the sun, but that doesn't mean you still don't have to use sunscreen.

If you're wearing a springy with arms and legs exposed, give those a spray with a reef safe zinc oxide spray and cover your face and neck with a zinc paste.

If you have a full steamer wetsuit, just make sure to cover every inch of your face and neck with some zinc. Even in a full-on hood, you can still be hit with some sunshine, so it's never a bad idea to rub some sunscreen on the exposed portion of your face.

The key is to just not let a wetsuit trick you into thinking that you don't need sunscreen. If you always just make sure to protect areas of skin outside your wetsuit, then you should be totally good to go and safe from the sun.


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