Sunscreen For Surfers

Sunscreen For Surfers

The use of the terms screen, block, and tan with the prefix sun certainly complicates our understanding of what these products can do. Currently, the only term allowed by the FDA is “sunscreen.” Sunscreens must have documentary evidence that they either absorb or physically block ultraviolet light. The only real sunblock is presumably a physical substance like clothing that is entirely opaque to ultraviolet light. The term suntan lotion probably means virtually nothing except as an advertising device.

Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin.

Surfers, as well as anyone who will be exposed to the sun, should use sunscreen.  Exposure to the sun is the number 1 cause of skin cancer, so using a lotion, spray, shirt, etc. that can lessen the damaging effects of the sun are imperative.

The Sun

The sun produces ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. Unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling (photoaging), and suppression of the immune system. UVB rays will usually burn the superficial layers of your skin. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.

Our understanding of exactly what kinds of damage UVA and UVB rays causes to the skin, and how best to protect ourselves, seems to shift every year as new research comes out.  Keeping up with these new developments is a worthwhile challenge that can help all of us prevent sun damage.

Not All Is Bad

There are dangers to sun exposure but there are also benefits.  Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.

Exposure to the sun/sunlight will boost the body’s vitamin D supply.  A healthy supply of vitamin D promotes bone growth and prevent illnesses such as breast and colon cancer, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, seasonal disorders, and depression.

I’m Dark Skinned, I Don’t Need Sunscreen

Melanin: The pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color.  Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people have.  Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes.  It provides some protection again skin damage from the sun, and the melanocytes increase their production of melanin in response to sun exposure.

Having dark skin does not provide complete UVA and UVB protection.  The sun does not discriminate, everyone is susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun.

What To Look For In A Suncreen

Broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun block also protects against UVA rays, or those that age us. Make sure that the label uses the both the terms “UVA/UVB” protection and “broad spectrum” on the label if you want to most effectively protect skin.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and refers to the ability of a sunscreen to block the sun’s UVB rays.  You should purchase a product with a  SPF 15 or higher.  If you’d normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning.

Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit: contrary to what you might think, SPF 30 isn’t twice as strong as SPF 15. While SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97%, only a slight improvement.

UVA protection. There is no rating to tell you how good a sunscreen is at blocking UVA rays. So when it comes to UVA protection, you need to pay attention to the ingredients.  Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following: ecamsule, avobenzone,oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide. Any of those should do the trick.

Water and sweat resistance. If you’re going to be exercising or in the water, it’s worth getting a sunscreen resistant to water and sweat.  But understand what this really means. The FDA defines water resistant sunscreen as meaning that the SPF level stays effective after 40 minutes in the water. Very water resistant means it holds after 80 minutes of swimming. These sunscreens are in no way waterproof, so you’ll need to reapply them regularly if you’re taking a dip.


Many people don’t realize there’s a difference between sunblock and sunscreen. True to its name, sunblock reflects the sun’s rays, thereby blocking them from reaching your skin.
Sunscreen absorbs rather than reflects ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Sunblocks, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are highly effective in protecting against both UVA and UVB rays, the types of UV radiation that cause sunburn and skin cancer. Sunblocks often appear white on the skin. Sunscreens tend to be less visible on the skin. 

Sunblocks serve as a shield for your skin. They work by reflecting UV radiation away from your body before it touches your skin. There are 2 types of  sunblocks available in the US: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Make sure you are using a product that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide!

Zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunblocks on the market. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered “mineral sunscreens.”  These minerals reflect UV rays. They lie on top of the skin and are not absorbed by your body unlike chemical sunscreens which are absorbed into your body through your skin.

Tips And Tricks

Don’t pay attention to any suncreen’s claim of waterproofness or its long lasting effect.   In my experience, there are no waterproof suncreens and their long lasting effect is debatable.  If you are out in the water, you will need to apply and reapply sunscreen.

When I’m surfing, and so that I don’t have to return to shore, I purchase a suncreen that is in a tube (similar to a lip balm but larger) and I keep it in the pocket of my surf shorts.  I will apply and reapply the sunscreen on my face, lips, ears and neck every 30 – 60 minutes .  I wear a surf shirt/rash guard to protect my upper body.

Sunscreen For Surfers

Stick of sunscreen.

In Conclusion

If you are exposed to the sun, and whether you decide to purchase a sunscreen or sunblock, you should definitely purchase and use one of these items .

Thanks for dropping in and if you have any comments or questions, please post it in the comment section of this page.  Click here to read my review on the TruKid Sunny Days sunscreen stick.

10 thoughts on “Sunscreen For Surfers

  1. Thanks for this post Stuart. This is really important information, and I learned new things about sun protection. Given that I live in Australia where the sun is plentiful, I will change my practices regarding sun screens. I have often been surprised that sometimes I can burn in 10 minutes! And as I get older I feel like I am more vulnerable to the sun. Or, the ozone layer is offering less and less protection. Cheers.

    • I visited Perth back in the early 80s when I was in the service, beautiful place.

      For a while there, I didn’t even wear sunscreen and would look like a burnt steak and pretty much feel the same.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in.

  2. Thank you Stuart for a helpful article on what to look for in a good sunscreen. As a fellow Aussie like Liz mentioned above, we know the sun is certainly plentiful Down Under and having the right sun screen is very important. The suns penetrating UV rays is the primary cause of melanoma skin cancer which is one of Australia’s 3 most common cancers and is responsible for the death of more young Australians (20-34 year olds) than any other single cancer. I’d be interested in hearing of any specific brands of sunscreen you could recommend. Thanks

    • Hi Peter, Another Aussie that’s fantastic. I’ve read that surfing is the National sport of Australia, I don’t know if that is true.

      I would highly recommend TruKid Sunny Days water-resistant SPF 30+ Sunscreen Stick, click here to read my review.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in.

  3. Great post!

    I went by the “I’m dark skinned” myth for a while. Glad to see it broken down in a way thats easy to digest.

    There definitely is a lot to consider when buying sunscreen, I usually go for the cheapest one! Definitely not making that mistake again. Thanks:)

    • Hi Wes, I used to be just like you, I would purchase whatever was cheapest but now I know better.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

  4. Hi Stuart, thanks for all the information on this post. I didn’t know really know that the number with SPF worked with how long you could stay in the sun, depending on how fast you burn. That’s some good information to me because I love being outside but I do burn fast, and I think from reading your post I would be better off buying sunblock, not sunscreen, which I didn’t know the difference of before. I’ll have to go buy some new stock now! Thanks

    • Hi Summerly, I’m glad you found this post helpful! I always wear sunscreen when I’m out in the sun but did you know you can also sunburn you eyes? You should wear protection, sunglasses, for your eyes too.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  5. I love this article, regardless of your skin tone you need UVA/UVB protection. Using sunscreen is a sure way to help reduce your risk of getting skin cancer (which is one of the most deadly if it spreads) so why not apply it quickly before enjoying a great day in the sun. Thanks so much for posting this!

    • Hi Jeff, I agree completely! I like to use sunscreen in a tube form, especially when I out surfing, it’s easy to apply and I can put it in my pocket.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *