Surfer Sunscreen Guide
The Sun is pretty amazing. Every hour, the sun strikes the earth with more power than the entire world consumes in a year.
That power gives life when it hits plants to help them grow and produce oxygen and when it hits water that evaporates into rain. It is, however, much less amazing when all that energy hits your skin.
Protect your skin! It's your largest organ! Every surfer knows that you have to protect your skin from the sun and the surf, but not all sunscreens are suited to the harsh life on the ocean and skin cancer is no joke.
So we've reviewed the best surfer sunscreen to find what will block those uva and uvb rays, provide the right spf, and not wash off in the waves to keep your surfers skin from getting cooked.
Our Favorite Picks
#1 Best Lotion - Headhunter
#2 Best Face Stick - Headhunter SPF 45
#3 Best Lip Balm - Zinka Clear Protector
The Top 5
Regular Sunscreen Lotion
#1 Headhunter SPF 50
We picked Headhunter SPF 50 sunscreen because it it provides the best balance of protection, water resistance, and a non greasy formula.
It is hypoallergenic and won't sting your eyes when applied to the face.
We love that it goes on easy and stays put while you are out surfing.
This is a chemical sunscreen that goes on clear and blocks both UVA and UVB rays for a high performing application to keep your skin safe while surfing.
#2 Zinka SPF 30
The Zinc SPF 30 lotion is also a great alternative for any surfer.
It provides broad spectrum protection to block out harmful rays and is a physical barrier with Zinc Oxide as the main ingredient.
It is water resistant and will make your surfing day so much better.
The protection lasts just as long as SPF 50, and so you'll be able to see when the sunscreen has migrated.
#1 Headhunter SPF 45
Face sticks are especially great when you are surfing in a wetsuit.
They are so easy to rub on your mug and also to share with your buddies.
This Headhunter SPF 45 stays visible on your skin so you know where you have it applied (at least your buddies can tell you where your face all white!) We also like this unique powder dry formula that is less like a grease and more like a solid.
You can even apply it while on the water.
Zinka sells this as extreme sun protection, and even though it is rated as SP50 it really does the trick to protect you.
It has Zinc Oxide as the active ingredient but it goes on clear according to Zinka, so you can get the same protection without the mess usually associated with zinc oxide.
The easy application, easy transport, water resistance, and high protection make this face stick a winner.
#1 Zinka Clear Protector
You can get skin cancer on your lips! That is why you need a lip balm that includes UV protection.
We make the same recommendation for lip balm as for sunscreen, use at least SPF 30.
This Zinka Clear Protector does exactly what it says, goes on clear and protects your lips.
We love it when a product does exactly what it says.
It can also moisturize your lips when they are dry and help them feel better immediately.
All that salt and sun is tough on your face, so make sure your lips are cared for with this awesome lip balm.
Waterproof vs Water Resistant vs Zinc
This is really a question between two things, as no sunscreen is truly water proof. That is just advertising and eventually all sunscreens will wash off. Most water resistant sunscreens will offer a useable or guaranteed time of 80 minutes. Zinc is the white stuff you can't rub in so is sometimes referred to as mineral sunscreen or surf mud (there is even a brand with that name) so you could title this section surf mud vs sunscreen. Surf zinc tends to stay on longer and is easy to tell when it washes off. If you can't see the white stuff on your skin, then it is time to reapply the barrier. Zinc is generally considered more eco friendly and reef safe, but both types of sunscreen will do the main job of protecting your hide from skin cancer. Surfers just need to make sure that they reapply sunscreen generously and often to maintain the water resistance of their sunscreen to gain the maximum sun protection.
How important is wearing sunscreen when surfing?
We can't overstate this enough, when surfing, wear sunscreen! Proper skin protection is just as important as remembering to bring your board or leash! Surf Sunscreen is more important than normal everyday use because it has to block both the rays directly from the sun and those reflected by the surf. According to the Mayo Clinic, reflected rays off the water are stronger, too! You also need to make sure your sunscreen won't wash away as soon as you paddle out. We all love surfing on bluebird days where the horizon is miles away, but even on cloudy days you can get sunburned and damage your skin. All of this mans one thing, and we'll shout it again in all caps, WEAR SUNSCREEN!
How to apply sunscreen?
The directions on most sunscreen bottles say "apply liberally" which simply means use generous amounts and apply often. Skimping on the amount of sunscreen you use is the surest way to damage your skin. Apply the lotion to any area of your skin that is not fully covered and rub it over the whole exposed area. Repeat at least every two hours. There are lots of areas that are easy to forget, like the back of your neck, the tops of your feet, and the back of your legs. For surfers, you also want to make sure not to forget the small of your back and front of your waste if you have a rash guard that can ride up. You'll also want to remember around the edges of your shorts/shirt on your arms and legs. Apply further up than you think you'll need just to be safe. Another tricky area is your scalp. You want to make sure that any exposed scalp including hairline and part line are well covered. If in doubt, sunscreen it!
What do I need to know about UV rays?
We are glad you asked so we can break out our high school science skills. There are two types of UV rays that should concern you when it comes to protecting your skin. UVA rays are longer wavelength rays that penetrate your skin and cause deeper damage that lead to skin cancer. UVB rays are shorter wavelength rays that damage the upper layers of your skin and cause sunburns. Neither is good, so you want to make sure that your sunscreen says it provides protection against both specifically or is labeled as broad spectrum protection.
What should I know about SPF levels?
SPF, or sun protection factor, levels indicate how well a sunscreen blocks harmful UVB rays. There are two main things to know about SPF levels: the first is that SPF 15 is the minimum necessary for any kind of benefit. The second is that anything above SPF 50 has provides only small marginal benefits and probably isn't worth the increased cost. Coconut scented tanning oil isn't going to cut it. Dermatologists recommend using at least SPF 30, which blocks 97% of the harmful UVB rays. It is good to remember that higher SPF levels do not last longer than lower SPF levels, so to improve your protection make sure to reapply your sunscreen often!
Why use zinc?
There are two types of sunscreen, physical and chemical. Physical (sometimes called mineral) sunscreen provides a literal barrier on your skin that blocks the sun, while chemical sunscreen absorbs the UV rays and causes a chemical reaction that prevents the UV rays from damaging your skin. Physical sunscreen has either Zinc Oxide or Titanium Oxide as the main active ingredient that blocks the UV rays. You can see it on your skin (it doesn't rub in or absorb clear) so you know exactly where you have applied it. It can be hard to clean off, but it offers significant, lasting sun protection. Other benefits of zinc sunscreens are they are generally a little less expensive, and they are hypoallergenic for people with sensitive skin. Just make sure you are using non-nanoparticle type zinc sunscreen and you should be good to go!
How long do these types of sunscreen last in the water?
The longest guarantee anyone will give is an 80 minute assurance. Zinc Oxide will generally last a little longer and you can tell when it washes off while you are surfing because it is no longer white. Again, our one take away from all the research is apply generously and often, so stretching this out longer is not to your benefit when you are out surfing.
Should I wear sunscreen even on cloudy days?
Yes! UVA and UVB rays can penetrate cloud cover. Only physical shade, physical sunscreen, or chemical sunscreen can stop the harmful effects of the sun on your skin and help prevent skin cancer. Again, surfers, improve your skin a little bit at a time every day by making sunscreen a habit not only when you surf, but when you are outside for any prolonged amount of time!
How do these heavy duty sunscreens affect my pores and skin?
There is some evidence that greasier sunscreens can clog pores and cause some acne, but UV exposure can cause breakouts too! However, clogged pores are not the case for all types of sunscreen, and the benefits to your skin in the long run far outweigh a short term breakout. Long term protection helps prevent wrinkles, sunspots, and skin cancer! The key is to find a non-greasy formula with active ingredients that work for you and your skin type with a high enough SPF level to protect your skin in both he short and longterm. Our top picks are all non-greasy and a great place to start!
Final Verdict - Which Should I Buy?
We want to share again two very useful FAQ's for more information. Here are two great primers on sunscreen information and usage from the Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Dermatology. These two treasure troves of information lead us to picking Headhunter SPF 50 as our top surfers sunscreen. It provides a high SPF level, is easy to apply all over, and is reef safe. Protecting your skin when surfing is paramount, so we recommend picking up enough of this for yourself and to share with your surfer friends to make sure everyone is covered!
OUR #1 PICK - Headhunter SPF 50