If a surf is part of your daily routine, then dousing yourself in sunscreen should be too. Forget about shark attacks, a surfers’ biggest concern is sun protection! Spending time on the sand and in the surf, means you’re exposed to dangerous UV rays which can cause not just sunspots and wrinkles but also melanoma and skin cancer. Read on to make sure your chosen sunscreen is doing the job for you.
Before we talk about what you should be looking for in a quality sunscreen, remember, it should not be your only form of sun protection. Keep the UV rays at bay by wearing UV protective clothing in the water. A rash guard should be your best friend in the surf.
These days there are loads of cool options out there including long and short-sleeved styles. But obviously the less exposed skin, the better protected you are if you can go for a long-sleeved one. And, if possible factor in the time of day and UV rating. Early morning and late afternoon surfs are the safest time of day to be out and about.
In this article, I’ll be looking at a number of factors which should influence your sunscreen choice. Look for a water resistant, broad spectrum, physical sunscreen. I’ll explain exactly what I mean by that in more depth as we continue.
After research into the requirements for sunscreen to be most effective in the surf SimplySunSafe recommends BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen as the best sunscreen for surfing. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for surfers.
For a sunscreen to protect surfers during their daily session in the swell, there are a number of factors that are must-haves:
Broad spectrum protection
When you’re choosing between sunscreens be sure to check the label for the wording “broad spectrum”. Why? Because broad spectrum sunscreen will shield you against UVA rays as well as UVB rays giving you a more complete coverage. If you’re still unsure of the difference between UVA & UVB rays, keep reading.
Most people worry about UVB rays – that’s because UVB rays cause the most visible and immediate damage – tanning or burning the upper layers of the skin. And, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what’s bad about that. UVA rays on the other hand tend to get overlooked since the damage they cause is less immediately noticeable. While UVB rays damage the superficial layers of skin, UVA rays penetrate into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer and cause premature skin aging and wrinkling. Both UVA and UVB rays are linked to skin cancer so it goes without saying that you want your sunscreen to protect against them both. That makes broad spectrum sunscreen a must.
Best SPF for Surfing
You probably already take Sun Protection Factor (SPF) into consideration when shopping for sunscreen and that’s a great start, but do you really know how it works? And what SPF is right for you? In short, the SPF marked on your sunscreen indicates the level of protection offered from UVB rays.
Generally speaking, the average person thinks, the higher the SPF, the better the sunscreen. Now, this is true, but probably not to the extent that you’d think. SPF indicates what factor of UVB rays reach your skin when you are wearing sunscreen.
So, when you use SPF 15 for example, only 1/15th of the sun’s dangerous UVB rays will penetrate your skin. That means you’re getting about 93% protection. Now, if you up the SPF to 30, you’re getting about 97% protection. Not as big a difference as most people believe but SPF 30 is still clearly better than SPF 15.
For more detailed information on the different levels of coverage see the table below.
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
Notice how there’s not much of a difference between the higher factors. So, what does it all mean? Probably the most important thing to take away from this table is that no sunscreen offers complete protection. And don’t assume because your sunscreen has a high SPF you don’t need to use as much. You should be using the same amount of sunscreen regardless of SPF.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you stick to sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 30 and not to worry about sunscreens higher than SPF 50.
Physical is better than chemical
Sunscreens can be labelled as either physical or chemical. And as always there are advantages/disadvantages to both. In my opinion the disadvantages associated with chemical sunscreens outweigh their advantages so I recommend you always opt for a physical or a combination physical/chemical sunscreen.
Physical sunscreens create a physical barrier (no surprises there) on top of your skin which reflects, scatters and blocks damaging UV rays away from it. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand use active ingredients which absorb UV rays as they hit your skin, turning them into heat energy.
Why do I recommend physical sunscreens over chemical ones? Well, they work immediately, prevent more radiation from penetrating the skin, last longer and are less likely to cause irritation. They also provide a visible layer of protection so you can see when your sunscreen has washed off and it’s time to reapply. Despite what you might think, this is a good thing! Let’s be realistic, no one cares what you look like in the surf so get your priorities straight.
Another compelling reason to stay away from chemical sunscreens is because many of their active ingredients are endocrine disruptors. That means they mess with your hormones. Not cool. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone – a dangerous chemical that can be found in some sunscreens.
Another way to make sure your sunscreen is safe is by looking for the words, ‘physical’ or ‘mineral’ on the label and by checking the active ingredients. High levels of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide are used in physical sunscreens. These are the only physical UV filters approved by the FDA.
When researching for this article one feature kept cropping up – water resistance. This is probably the single most important factor for a sunscreen for swimming and surfing. So, using a very water resistant sunscreen should be your priority. You’ll be protected for longer and the only thing stinging your eyes will be the salt water.
On the label you’ll see either ‘water resistant’ or ‘very water resistant’. And it goes without saying the best sunscreen for surfing falls into the ‘very water resistant’ category. This means your sunscreen will last for up to 80 minutes. But bear in mind, even the most resistant sunscreens are considerably reduced after 40 minutes and completely gone after 80 minutes. So can I just reapply every 80 minutes you ask? For best protection, try and reapply before your 80 minutes is up. The longer you spend in the water, the less effective your sunscreen is.
Rub on lotion not spray
Spray formulas might seem like a good choice when the surf is calling but are they really? Both the EWG (non-profit, non-partisan human health authority) and the FDA recommend you stay away from them. Why? Because spray formulas can be inhaled, causing a safety hazard and not enough research has been done to prove that they’re safe for use.
They also leave a lot to be desired as far as coverage goes. You may think you’re good to go but spray products don’t create a thick and even barrier making them an unreliable sunscreen choice. So, whether you surf or not, avoid sprays and stick to rub on lotion. Your skin and lungs will thank you later.
Suitable for daily use
Most surfers are passionate lifelong lovers of the ocean. From the time they first set foot in the white wash as a grommet they’re hooked. This means you likely spend a lot of time surfing, perhaps even every day.
If this is the case, you need a sunscreen that won’t negatively affect your skin through consistent use. This is particularly true if you’re a surfer with sensitive skin. For this reason all of the sunscreens recommended below have gentle formulations that you can use everyday without a second thought to how they affect your skin.
If you do have particularly sensitive skin, stick with the purely physical sunscreens (1-3) that promote themselves as natural. The number 1 pick on this list is especially good on sensitive skin.
Best Sunscreen for Surfing Comparison
|BADGER Sport Sunscreen||BurnOut Ocean Tested||thinksport Sunscreen||HeadHunter Suncare Face Stick||Bull Frog Land Sport Quik Stik|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (22.5%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Homosalate (5%), Octinoxate (7.5%), Octocrylene (1.5%), Titanium Dioxide (10%), Zinc Oxide (10%)||Homosalate (6%), Octinoxate (7.5%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (5%), Zinc Oxide (10%)|
|Water resistance||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes|
5 Best Sunscreens for Surfing
After thorough research into the needs of surfers through discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, and participating in skincare forums SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for surfing. Like every good sunscreen for water sports, all of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, are very water resistant and are great for daily use.
BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen came out on top as the number 1 product for surfers for several reasons. It is a broad spectrum, very water resistant, physical sunscreen which has only 5 ingredients. It is 100% natural and 98% organic which is great not just for your skin but for the ocean too. This makes it by far the best natural sunscreen for surfing.
Because of its low environmental impact BADGER Sport Sunscreen is a good choice for the environmentally conscious surfer. This is a big part of why it ranked so well. It is biodegradable and safe for coral reefs so you don’t have to feel guilty about using this sunscreen for the beach.
The active ingredient in BADGER Sport Sunscreen is zinc oxide (22.5%) which offers great protection for surfers. It can take some time to rub in and leaves a white cast but this helps surfers remember when to reapply as you can tell when it has washed off easily. Obviously, for some of you this may not be its most appealing quality but I urge you to give it a go first.
BADGER Sport Sunscreen has a mild oatmeal-like fragrance and contains sunflower oil, beeswax, jojoba oil and vitamin E also making it a good option for both daily use and sensitive skin.
Perhaps its most important quality for surfers, BADGER Sport has very high water-resistance, providing 80 minutes of protection while in the water. For this reason, and those listed above, SimplySunSafe recommends BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen as the best waterproof sunscreen for surfing.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Simple, biodegradable formula
- 80-minute water resistance
- Thick formula
BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical SPF 30+ is also an excellent option for surfers. This product is another very water resistant, broad spectrum physical sunscreen. And, like BADGER Sport Sunscreen, its main active ingredient is zinc oxide (20%)
Another good option for eco-friendly surfers, BurnOut is passionate about taking care of the environment. BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical is free of chemicals, parabens, petroleum and PABA. And includes safe and natural ingredients such as hemp seed oil, aloe vera and antioxidant vitamins. This sunscreen is also biodegradable, ocean-safe, cruelty free and suitable for vegans.
Since this is a physical sunscreen, it will likely leave a white cast on your skin but it has a nice texture and rubs in fairly well. Again, this isn’t the end of the world. At least you know it won’t come straight off in the surf and it’s a visible reminder of when it’s time to reapply. This sunscreen has a mild pleasant fragrance.
BurnOut changed the formulation of this product a while back which disgruntled consumers. But, they have since updated their formula and corrected the problem. For this reason you can find BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical Sunscreen on the EWG’s list of safe sunscreens.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Hydrating ingredients
- 80-minute water resistance
- Takes time to rub in
- Likely white cast
Another good all rounder is thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+. Like the other options listed, it is also a physical sunscreen. Its main active ingredient is zinc oxide (20%), it is broad spectrum and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
thinksport strives to make sunscreens which are safe for its consumers. They follow FDA directives to a tee, avoid chemical ingredients with bad reputations and don’t make spray formulas. They also use lots of natural ingredients in their products such as sunflower oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil and papaya.
This sunscreen is recommended by dermatologists too. Its non-greasy formula is light on the skin and has a mild fragrance. This makes it a great option for daily use and people with sensitive skin.
As with all mineral sunscreens, thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+ leaves a white cast on most skin types. But in the scheme of things this is a minor disadvantage.
thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+ is a good option for the budget-minded surfer and offers a cheaper alternative to BADGER and BurnOut. It comes in 3 ounce and 6 ounce tubes to provide an even cheaper option for daily users.
- High SPF
- Great value
- Reliable water resistance
- Thick formula
- Likely white cast
Since HeadHunter has a good reputation among the surfing community I did some research and decided to include the HeadHunter Suncare Face Stick. This product gets an excellent rating for UVA protection on EWG and offers well-balanced broad spectrum sunscreen.
This product is a combined chemical/physical sunscreen and its active ingredients are the following: homosalate (5%), octinoxate (7.5%), octocrylene (1.5%), titanium dioxide (10%), and zinc oxide (10%). The inclusion of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide mean this sunscreen creates a good protective barrier and the combination with chemical ingredients make it easier to apply. Compared to the other sunscreens, HeadHunter Suncare Face Stick has a lengthy list of ingredients, another reason it doesn’t rank so well in the list of products reviewed in this post.
HeadHunter Suncare Face Stick is on the pricier end of the spectrum but it’s a good option for surfers who also wear a rash guard in the water. It is very water resistant, lasting for up to 80 minutes in surf and it goes on thick which makes it easy to tell when you need to reapply. Users say it’s easy to apply when you’re still fresh out of the surf too. However, for best results, SimplySunSafe recommends you towel dry before reapplying.
The packaging resembles a deodorant stick and is convenient to have on hand. Since it doesn’t take up much space you can stash one in the car or your backpack.
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Reliable 80-minute water resistance
- Chemical ingredients
Another tried and tested brand in the surfer community is Bull Frog. Its gel and spray formulas are frequently mentioned on surfing forums but don’t as rank well on EWG so I can’t recommend them personally. (Note: neither EWG, the FDA or SimplySunSafe recommend spray formulas.) One great option from this brand is the Bull Frog Land Sport Quik Stik SPF 50 Sunscreen Stick.
Like the HeadHunter Suncare Face Stick, this product is considerably more expensive than the other sunscreens reviewed. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend it as an all-over body sunscreen. Instead use it on your face, neck, ears, and the parts in between. If you wear a rashie in the surf, or are happy to use more than one sunscreen, this could be a good option for you.
As this product is designed for sports, it is very water resistant, and will last for up to 80 minutes. Its active ingredients include: homosalate (6%), octinoxate (7.5%), octisalate (5%), octocrylene (5%), and zinc oxide (10%). It offers balanced broad spectrum coverage and is SPF 50.
This sunscreen goes on clear, is easy to apply and is fragrance free too. It comes in a conveniently sized stick, so you can carry it with you anywhere, and easily leave some in the car or your backpack.
- Convenient size and packaging
- Reliable 80-minute water resistance
- Chemical ingredients
I hope this guide has helped you make an informed decision about the best sunscreen to suit your surfing needs.
Based on the must-have features outlined, the best sunscreen for surfers is BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen. All of the sunscreens reviewed are great options however you may find one product works better for you than the rest. It all comes down to personal preference.
If you’ve already spent some time researching you may have noticed I haven’t included some popular choices among the surfing community. This is because they don’t fit within SimplySunSafe’s criteria or are not rated as highly by the EWG. Some brands you may have seen mentioned are Coppertone, Neutrogena, Aloe Gator and Shisheido. I do not personally recommend these products but they may work for you.
If you’re a surfer and you have a sunscreen that you swear by, let me know in the comments below. I’ll do some research and may add it to my recommendations.