We have become so much more aware of the dangers of sun exposure. Cancer Research UK clarifies that the skin damage caused by UV rays causes DNA damage in our skin cells that can lead to cancer.
Getting sunburn is a sure sign that you have suffered skin damage, and your risk of developing skin cancer will significantly increase.
The bad news is that surfers are especially at risk due to the length of time we spend outdoors, with our skin exposed to the sun. The reflection of the water increases the chance of sunburn even further. A study carried out in 2015 found that surfers are three times more likely to develop skin cancer than the rest of the population.
You probably expect to wear sunscreen if you are heading off to surf in warmer climes like the Canaries, Indo, South America…. but what about at home? Here in the UK, you also need to wear sunscreen to protect your skin. Even on a cloudy summer day, there will be enough UV rays to cause some damage.
If you are looking for a sunscreen for an upcoming surf trip, you might find it easier to buy before travelling. My experience was on some trips to remote places, like Brazil or Morocco, sunscreen was either very expensive or I just couldn’t find any to buy. So it’s always a good idea to pack some before you go.
Table of Contents
Different types of sunscreen
Since sunscreen is so essential for our health, it’s worth taking some time to consider the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens are designed to be easy to apply with a smooth consistency that soaks into the top layer of skin. Ideally, it will be invisible without any feeling of residue.
As the protection is absorbed below the top layer of skin, the UV rays can penetrate the upper layer of skin, potentially causing some damage. You will need to wait about 15 minutes for the product to become effective.
The European Commission and FDA in the US have called for limitations on using some chemicals in sunscreens. Some of the chemicals may irritate sensitive skin. In particular, Oxybenzone has been found to act like oestrogen and cause sperm production and endometriosis problems. There are also some issues with damage to the environment that I will discuss more later.
Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide. They work by creating a barrier preventing UV radiation from penetrating your skin. They immediately take effect, but they leave a white film that makes your skin look pale. They are far less likely to irritate sensitive skin.
What makes a good sunscreen for surfing?
Since surfing means you are exposed to the sun for long periods, and the sea will batter your body, what should you look out for in a sunscreen?
Waterproof – This one is kind of obvious since a non-waterproof sunscreen will wash off quickly in the water. An excellent water-resistant product will stay in place for longer.
Non-irritant – We’ve all been there. You slather on the sunscreen, and once you get wet, you find it dripping into your eyes, causing the sting of doom. It’s best to choose a sunscreen that promises not to sting.
Reef friendly – Oxybenzone is not only potentially harmful to people but it has also contributed to the destruction of coral reefs. It is so bad that Hawaii has banned the use of sunscreens that contain this chemical. You can do your bit for the environment by avoiding sunscreens that contain it.
UVA and UVB ray protection – Both are important. All sunscreens are rated with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) followed by a number. The SPF reduces the amount of UVB (type B ultraviolet) rays that penetrate the skin. UVB rays cause cancer.
SPF is the time taken to burn compared to not wearing sunscreen.
In sunshine that would burn you in 10 minutes:
- SPF 15 will give you 15 times longer without burning. i.e. 150 minutes.
- SPF 30 will provide you with double the amount of time in the sun without burning. i.e. 300 minutes
It is essential always to use a minimum of SPF 30 to protect your skin when out on the water surfing.
You should also check out the UVA rating, which is often measured in stars. The more stars, the more protected your skin is against premature ageing.
Best sunscreen for surfers in the UK
Let’s take a look at some of the best sunscreens for surfers in UK that promise good sun protection.
SETT Natural Face Stick
Best mineral stick for sensitive eyes
13.5g – Check price on Amazon >
SETT is a company first developed by a surfer following a bout of surf rash in 2016. He created a cream to combat the condition, and a natural mineral sunscreen followed this. The company has since grown into an established brand that produces a whole range of natural products.
This face stick has an SPF30 UVB rating and high UVA protection. It is both water-resistant and reef-safe since it only uses zinc oxide and titanium oxide to avoid harm to aquatic life. The beeswax ensures that it will not run into your eyes and cause stinging. It is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin and children.
This sunblock is ideal for use in and out of the water. The formulation rubs in well. Once absorbed, it is transparent and does not run. It leaves no oily residue and does not leave the skin feeling sticky. It is highly effective as sun protection, providing it is reapplied every 2 hours.
This sunblock is 100% mineral and does not contain any ingredients that may cause harm to the environment, making it an excellent choice for surfers, but beeswax means it is not vegan.
Sun Bum Original Sunscreen
Best for all-over application and absorption
177ml – View on Boots >
Sun Bum is an authentic surfer brand that started in Florida as a small company that produced sunscreen for their friends and family. They now have another base in California. They are committed to living the surf life while safeguarding skin from the sun and protecting the planet.
Their original water-resistant moisturising sunscreen comes in a spray bottle and dries to a sheer finish on the skin. It has an SPF of 30 and protects from UVA and UVB rays. It contains Vitamin E to prevent premature ageing.
Spray sunscreen can be problematic as it often clogs, but this one works efficiently and leaves a light covering on the skin that absorbs well without leaving any tackiness. Not only does it avoid getting your hands greasy, but it is easy to reach all over your body. The scent is a traditional tropical smell of banana and coconut that will take remind you of holidays wherever you are.
The downside to this sunscreen is that you need to apply it 15 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply after 80 minutes if you are in the water.
Its eco-credentials are not too bad for a chemical sunscreen as it is free from oxybenzone and animal cruelty with no parabens.
Suntribe All Natural Mineral Body & Face Sunscreen
Best for sensitive skin
100ml – Check price on Amazon >
Three friends founded Suntribe with love for both nature and outdoor pursuits. Their mission is to contribute to change within the sunscreen industry. They produce natural sunscreens which are 100% free from synthetic ingredients.
This cream formula sunscreen has an SPF of 30 and has broad screen protection for UVB and UVA rays. It is made from organic ingredients and is designed to be gentle on sensitive skin. It has a tint that helps the cream blend with your skin colour and is water-resistant.
The gentle ingredients make this one of the better choices for sensitive skin, and it will prevent prickly heat without causing an allergic reaction. The coconut oil, cacao, and shea butter help the cream moisturise the skin well and give it a pleasant smell. The tint helps to modify the white film usually left by this kind of mineral sunscreen.
It needs to be applied every 2 hours, and people with darker skins may find that the film is noticeable even with the tint.
The eco-credentials are good as it is free from all the harmful chemicals that cause problems. The ingredients are all organic. Unfortunately, beeswax means it is not suitable for vegans.
Sun Zapper Zinc Stick
Super thick for long-lasting sun protection
50g – Check price on Amazon >
Sun Zapper zinc stick is my go-to sunscreen for any surf or windsurfing trip. I’d always bring some along wherever I go.
Sun Zapper are an Australian sunscreen brand that tests its products to work in the harsh Australian climate. Designed for surfing, they are proud of their commitment to sun protection.
Their skin tone zinc stick is water-resistant for 4 hours and provides SPF50+ protection against UVB rays with additional UVA protection. The sticks contain vitamin E and aloe vera to help moisturise and protect skin from the elements
This stick is a sunblock style product in skin tone colour to make it less visible. If you wanted to have a bit more fun with your sun protection, there are a wide range of colours like blue, yellow, green and white.
It is perfect for protecting targeted areas like the nose. It isn’t easy to rub in and is better left on the surface for the best protection. Despite this, it is suitable for sensitive skin and works well on delicate areas like under the eyes.
The Zincstick has great eco-credentials. It contains no chemicals and instead uses Zinc Oxide. It is nanoparticle free, so totally reef friendly.
None of their products are tested on animals.
LifeJacket Sun Protection Gel
Best for daily use on the face
50g – View on LifeJacket >
LifeJacket is a business borne out of a group of friends who had a brush with skin cancer. The shock made them realise that men are more prone to getting the disease, and they wanted to build a brand that raised awareness of men taking care of themselves.
This water-resistant SPF 50 sunscreen is free from fragrance and comes in a gel that is designed to be lightweight and non-greasy. It is meant to be worn daily by outdoor men as it gives very high protection from the sun’s rays.
Men can wear this gel on the face or body, and the high SPF makes it very suitable for the face. Many men will certainly appreciate the lack of perfume, meaning it can be worn daily for any outdoor pursuit without drawing attention to the product. Every purchase comes with a reduced subscription to a skin check app that encourages men to check their skin for moles.
Although this gel is not a mineral sunscreen, it does not contain the harmful ingredients Oxybenzone or Oxtinoxate, so it is safe to be worn in the water.
Aloha Sun Stick
Best for targeted protection that protects the environment
20g – Check price on Amazon >
Aloha Care is a company created to produce sunscreen products for water enthusiasts that are highly sustainable and are safe for the environment.
This SPF50+ sun stick is a very high mineral sunblock for UVB and UVA rays. Designed to be applied to the most sensitive areas of your face, such as the nose and cheeks, it provides a complete shield.
This sunblock is intended to be used by surfers or paddleboarders out on the water. It sits on the skin as a barrier and comes in either blue, pink or nude. All the colours remain visible and are a fun way to ensure you provide extra protection for those delicate exposed areas of the face, but it isn’t ideal for people who want a more subtle form of protection.
It comes in packaging as small as a lip balm and is handy to carry. However, it can be hard to remove and must be wiped away with a cloth. It is expensive for a small product.
Its eco-credentials are one of the best. It is 94% mineral and contains no harmful ingredients. It is safe for aquatic life and is free from nanoparticles with no chemical filters. It comes in paper packaging to ensure no plastic pollution remains on beaches.
Riemann P20 Sunscreen
Premium all-round sunscreen
200ml – Check price on Amazon >
Riemann P20 is a famous brand of sunscreen with a longstanding reputation. It started in 1979 when Claus Riemann wanted to help protect a friend with sensitive skin from the sun. The technology he used to design the P20 products is still evident today.
P20 Sunscreen is designed to be applied just once per day. It claims to give 10 hours of protection from the sun and is very water-resistant. It is very absorbent, leaves no white marks and is active within 15 minutes of application. The SPF50 protection works with UVB and UVA rays.
This lotion is a chemical sunscreen that promises all-day protection even in the water. In reality, its effectiveness will depend on how generously it is applied. It should be very suitable for surfers who spend many hours in the water. Many people are very loyal to this brand and find it an efficient way to give excellent protection.
While it is vegan and not tested on animals, this chemical sunscreen does not claim to be reef friendly.
NIVEA SUN Kids Swim
Best value sunscreen
150ml – Check price on Amazon >
Nivea is one of the world’s leading skincare brands with over 150 years of experience in the industry. It produces deodorants, skincare and sunscreen products across the globe.
This Nivea swim sunscreen was designed for children, babies and delicate skin. With SPF50+ protection, it dramatically reduces any risk of sun damage and works on both UVB and UVA rays. The cream is highly water-resistant and is wholly absorbed into the skin.
The bonus of this sunscreen cream is that it is effective immediately and is absorbed quickly. While it claims to be made for sensitive skin, the chemicals can irritate people with skin conditions like eczema. Although water-resistant, the instructions suggest that it needs to be reapplied frequently, so it may not be the best for people who need to stay out on the water all day.
Its eco-credentials are limited. It comes in plastic packaging, and it is a chemical sunscreen that does not claim to be reef friendly. It is, however, a budget-friendly option.
Salt & Stone SPF 30
Best smelling, eco-friendly sunscreen
88ml – Check price on Amazon >
Salt & Stone is a high-performance skincare brand for the active body. The California company blends science with nature to produce products that work together to promote wellbeing.
Their natural sunscreen is a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen for sensitive skin. The lotion provides UVA and UVB protection with an SPF50+ rating. It helps keep skin hydrated with cacao seed butter and fatty acids. Aloe Barbadensis helps to soothe stressed skin. It is water-resistant and leaves no white residue on the skin.
The lotion is very effective but needs to be rubbed into the skin well to absorb it. The smell is divisive, with some people finding it sickly sweet while others find it pleasant. The high-quality ingredients leave skin feeling nourished and looked after with good protection from burning.
The eco-credentials of this mineral sunscreen are excellent. Labelled reef-friendly and free from harmful chemicals. There are no artificial fragrances, sulphates, silicones or petrochemicals, and the packaging is sustainable.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.