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From the neon zinc sticks of the 80s to all organic cocoa butter sunscreen, it has become quite the challenge to find the perfect sunscreen for surfers.
Fortunately, my pale face has been the prime test subject to try out many of the surf sunscreens on the market. In this guide, I’ll highlight the best sunscreens for surfers that meet the following criteria:
Reef safe: No damage done to coral reefs while you surf.
Stays on: Doesn’t wipe off when you’re getting thrashed around in whitewash.
Protects against UVA and UVB rays(SPF 30+): Some sunscreens felt like they literally burned my face and I would’ve been better off wearing nothing… Those ones won’t be included here.
Doesn’t sting your eyes: Looking at you, Sun Bum. You eye-burning MFer.
Table of Contents
The Best Sunscreen for Surfers
Best surf sunscreen overall
Avasol’s surfer barrier stick is our number one pick for surf sunscreens. Made from natural ingredients and packaged in cardboard, Avasol is also one of the most eco friendly options out there. Avasol has been my favorite surf sunscreen for years. Living in Fiji, it’s common to spend 4+ hours out on the water under the equatorial sun. Avasol is the first sunscreen I reach for, and I always make sure to have a spare tube packed away somewhere safe on any surf trips. It doesn’t feel as thick as other surf sunscreens, giving your skin some room to breath.
Because of its packaging, you do have to baby the zinc stick a little bit as it’ll warp if it gets wet. Like most tinted sunscreens, it will stain clothing. The sunscreen also comes in a refillable pump bottle version if you prefer a liquid sunscreen.
Surfyogis offers zinc-based sunscreen in a tin, with formulas for warm and cold weather. It offers stellar protection for up to 3 hours. It can feel a little thick, and takes a while to fully rub in. But, this thickness helps the sunscreen stay on longer and is useful for preventing lips from getting burned. Surfyogis is made from chocolate, coffee, beeswax, with zinc oxide being the protective ingredient. A lot of the natural zinc sunscreens can seem the same after you’ve tried a few, but this is one of the better ones. Plus, it offers a tinted option for those of us who don’t love that powdered sugar look. Almost all tinted sunscreens featured in this review stain clothing, Surfyogis included.
Surfmud is one of the best lotion-based sunscreens for surfers, as long as you reapply quite regularly. Made from natural ingredients, their lotion is rated SPF 30 and water resistant for up to 4 hours. They also have a solid sunscreen meant for faces, but it’s bit harder to work and spread around than Surfyogis. They offer a baby-friendly version, called Surfbaby. The company offers a money back guarantee if you end up thinking Surfmud is a dud.
Stream2Sea was founded by a passionate scuba diver and environmentalist who wanted to find a reef-safe sunscreen that stayed put while you dived. Though their marketing targets other divers, it’s also a great sunscreen for surfers. Because it’s a mineral-based sunscreen, it may leave a white film as you rub it in. This often fades within 15 minutes or so, and it’s best to apply Stream2Sea sunscreen about 30 minutes before a surf. Stream2Sea offers a range of face and body lotions, tinted and untinted.
Australian Gold Botanical has a mineral non-greasy sunscreen option that stays put as you surf. This is one of the most affordable and effective sunscreens I’ve tried, and is ideal for sensitive skin. This is an all-around sunscreen that would be a great fit if you’re traveling and only taking one or two surf sunscreen options. While the marketing claims it doesn’t leave a white film, there is a faint layer of sunscreen once you spend some time in the water. But, that’s par for the course when it comes to just about any mineral sunscreen.
Look for SPF rating 30-50, and make sure it protects against UVA and UVB rays.
SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it’s what tells you how long the sun’s radiation would take to redden your skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, Sunscreen protects against two types of harmful UV rays; UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays burn the skin and contribute to the causes of skin cancer. UVA rays also burn skin, but primarily cause wrinkles and aging. It’s essential to look for a sunscreen that blocks against both UVA and UVB rays, as some sunscreens only block UVB rays. This is especially common in lower SPF sunscreens and tanning creams.
The highest a SPF rating can truly go is 50. At SPF 30, only 3% of UVB rays can reach your skin. At SPF 50, only 2% of rays can reach your skin. It’s not possible to measure SPF effectiveness higher than SPF 50, so the sunscreens touting 100+ SPF are mostly marketing gimmicks, and may keep you from reapplying as often as you should.
Water resistance is the first thing that differentiates surf sunscreens from everyday sunscreens. Surfers need their sun protection to be as water-resistant as possible. Oftentimes, we’re rubbing our face, getting tumbled in the water, and may even have to adjust a surf hat. All of these actions contribute to the wearing off of surf sunscreen. When choosing the right surf sunscreen, check that it is water resistant for 4+ hours. While you’re in the water, reapply every 2 hours.
Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are often tapped as the most durable sun blocking ingredient. Non-nano particle zinc and titanium oxide forms a layer, almost like a mask, onto the skin, blocking harmful UV rays. ‘Chemical’ sunscreens tend to soak into the skin, using reef-damaging ingredients like oxybenzone. We dive into the ins and outs of sunscreen in our post, how to choose and wear reef-safe sunscreen.
Boutique sunscreen brands have been popping up in surf shops all around the world. If you’re in a pinch and don’t know whether it’s worth trusting, check the ingredients. Many surf sunscreen brands love to go the hippy route and advertise cocoa, coconut oil, cinnamon, beeswax–whatever–to convince you that the sunscreen is awesome and natural. However, if it doesn’t have a sun blocking ingredient like zinc oxide, it will not protect you.
Surf Sunscreen Travel Tip
If you’re on a surf trip and shops are looking skint in the sunscreen department, opt for the toddler or baby version of a major sunscreen brand. Kids sunscreens are often mineral based, making them a bit more water-resistant than the main version. The main reason kids sunscreens aren’t marketed towards adults is that they tend to leave a white film behind. Sunscreen covered faces and surfing go hand-in-hand, so who cares.