Many surfers don’t like the idea of wearing sunscreen.
I wasn’t a big fan either, but the inconvenience of not wearing one has had serious ramifications on my life and health.
Last month, one of my mates was diagnosed with an early stage 1 Melanoma (skin cancer).
I’m still glad it was discovered at the early stages, but she has a 3” long scar on her back to show for it because of the heavy sun exposure.
And sadly, it’s not any different for my mom.
She grew up in the ’60s, and they didn’t wear sunscreen back then. They only applied zinc oxide on the nose and ears, baby oil, and all that bullshit to the rest of the body, which didn’t help.
Today, she looks like someone who survived a stabbing with how many scars for getting moles removed.
Also, most of her friends have gnarly amounts of skin removed from their shoulders and shit, while others have “freckles” all over their skin.
Of course, some may argue that not every skin type needs sunscreen, but take it from me; I can never advocate getting in the water without one. Use it even when it’s cloudy and rainy. UV goes through.
See, just because you’re not coming out of the water looking like a lobster doesn’t mean you’re not getting sun damage.
True, you might not be burning or peeling by then, but it’s definitely doing some damage and will eventually catch up with you.
So, wearing sunscreen is necessary for all surfers.
And the good thing with today’s sunscreens is they’re not the terrible cheap sunblock you used as a kid. They don’t get into your mouth, eyes and leave you smelling like crap the second you hit the water.
Instead, you get some high-quality options that will not only shield your skin from the damaging UVA and UVB rays but are easy to use and apply.
And some surf-specific sunscreens aren’t only for surfing but can also come in handy for the blistering hot days and summer—sun protection all year round.
But what are these sunscreens?
In the guide below, I’ll share some of my favorite options that I’ve been using with success.
Table of Contents
The Best Sunscreen for Surfing For The Money
#1 Banana Boat Sport Reef Friendly Sunscreen Lotion - EDITOR'S CHOICE
There’re so many best surf sunscreens in the market, but the Banana Boat stands out for me.
See, when I’m looking for the best sunscreen for surf, I consider some essential characteristics.
First, I need sunscreen that doesn’t wear off in the water. I also want something that goes into my skin quickly and doesn’t leave any greasy residue.
More importantly, I want sunscreen that will protect me from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Banana Boat Sport Reef seems to tick all the boxes and does much more.
The first thing I love about this purchase is that it’s reef-friendly.
It’s free from the harmful oxybenzone and octinoxate, which is a plus in my books and other eco-conscious surfers. I longer have to feel guilty that I’m harming the environment using this lotion.
The absence of octinoxate and benzoyl peroxide makes even more sense for my family because I no longer have to worry about the negative skin reactions.
I had to deal with acne and contact dermatitis on my sons with sensitive skin allergies for my previous sunscreens. Now, all is gone. Banana Sunscreen is hypoallergenic; so, no more expensive skin treatments or skin irritation/ reddening.
Moving on, I was a bit concerned with the thickness of the lotion.
It came thick, and honestly, it required some elbow grease to get it through the pump. I had to rinse the pump more than often.
But the greatest downside was that it was challenging to rub on my skin, especially if it was on the dry side.
The good thing is it requires just a little more effort than your regular sunscreen, and while it takes a long time to rub, once it’s on… it’s on.
I mean, even after several hours of sunscreen, I only need to do retouches on my skin on spots extensively rubbed with my towel.
But be sure to apply 30 minutes before heading out.
Another good thing is it washes out quickly when you’re out of the water. It never stuck on my face or left me greasy after a quick dip in mild soap water.
Of course, the ultimate test with sunscreen is how well it works at blocking harmful UV rays.
I had no problems using the sunscreen because I knew it would protect my skin from the sun because of the high SPF protection.
See, I’ve sensitive skin that’s prone to breakouts. The salt water makes them worse, so having extra skin protection helps.
With the Banana Sunscreen, I can spend hours in the sun without reapplying, and I don’t get sunburned at all!
It effectively blocks the harmful sun rays and keeps me protected all through.
And the good thing is the sunscreen holds up well, not only for surfing but also for other water sports.
For me, it holds up well with my active lifestyle, and I can sweat, go swimming, jet skiing, and more without the worry of sunburn.
Finally, I chose the Banana Sunscreen because of its mild Banana Scent.
Yes, the Sport Ultra has a much stronger scent than the Sport, but I can still tolerate the scent, even though I’m allergic to many fragrances/Scents.
It doesn’t leave me with a rancid smell that most sunscreens have, and I can use as much of it as I like without getting nauseous or smelling like cotton candy or anything else, really.
#2 BLUE LIZARD Australian Sunscreen – Best Surfing Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin (fragrance-free)
Broad Spectrum protection, UVA/UVB protection, Titanium Dioxide, and Zinc Oxide are some of the terms that were singled out to me when I asked my dermatologist what I should look out for.
Blue sunscreen fitted all of these and seemed like I hit the jackpot when I came across this natural sunscreen.
I chose this best surf sunscreen because the ingredients were great (check), and more importantly, they’ve a sensitive formula, ideal for sensitive skin.
See, I’ve been suffering from a photosensitivity allergy. If I went to the sun for more than 15 minutes (with or without sunscreen), I would develop a severe allergic reaction lasting for days.
So, when I read that a physical/mineral-based formula like Lizard would help, I was in for it.
I was a bit skeptical at first, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try.
And it worked! I can’t believe it.
I’m stoked about Blue Lizard’s Sensitive Formula and delighted with the performance of this sunscreen.
It works as intended, and today, I can go outside without worrying that I’ll end up in a red, swollen mess.
I’ve eaten lunch outside, in full sunlight, gone surfing early in the morning, and I don’t have the slightest hint of itch or swelling.
And unlike the other zinc oxide sunscreen that tends to cause bumps on my sensitive skin, this one doesn’t.
The zinc oxide formula does make my face a bit shiny, though, but all mineral SPFs do that- I just wait for it to sink in, then put on my normal water mineral powder foundation. The shine will go away.
On top of that, while I did notice a white caste one, you won’t look like Casper. I was terrified I would look ghostly, but I didn’t.
Even better, my face didn’t break out into small pus-filled pimples across my jawline as I had previously experienced with the other sunscreens.
And like our first pick, the Banana sunscreen, it takes a little more effort to apply and get it rubbed on my skin. It’s a fairly thick lotion.
It takes a few more minutes, though, but once you get in, it works well.
The titanium dioxide sunscreen will shield you from any sunburn and other elements.
The other thing is Blue Lizard purposefully omits Octinoxate and Oxybenzone from the list of ingredients. So, I don’t feel remorseful about sunscreen on the coral reefs as it doesn’t harm the environment, and no corals were killed.
I also loved how this mineral sunscreen feels on my skin.
Normally, I dislike how other sunscreens feel- tacky and greasy. But once I rubbed the zinc oxide Blue properly, it just felt really soft and silky.
And best of all-absolutely no smell or irritation! Check.
I’m so sensitive to scents, and often sunscreen advertised as scent-free still does in my experience. This is the real deal. It smells nada!
#3 Thinksport Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen - Best Reef-Friendly Sunscreen
For the eco-conscious readers, the Thinksport Sun Bum SPF 50+ is the best eco-friendly sunscreen out there.
It fits our requirements for reef-safe sunscreen.
This is because it has non-nano zinc oxide as its primary ingredient.
While we can’t guarantee that Sun Bum is totally reef-safe, non-nano zinc oxide is passed as the most recommended chemical for sea life.
It’s not shown to encourage viruses or cause damage to sea creatures.
Simply put, you’ll not feel guilty about using Thinksport Sun Bum because you know it won’t harm the environment and the coral.
This is not to mention it’s paraben-free, so it doesn’t affect the aquatic lifestyle.
Of course, most zinc-based sunscreens conjure images of lifeguards with white noses.
Thinksport Sun Bum is different.
It rubs well and is among the clearest sunscreens I’ve come across.
The sunscreen isn’t too thick, spreads evenly and easily, and doesn’t feel tacky. Once on the skin, it feels less greasy than many chemical sunscreens and won’t leave a heavy white tint once you run it in, and no issues with wearing off from sweating.
But like a mineral-based sunscreen, it tends to be a bit difficult to wash off. However, Castile Soap is an easy remedy for that.
And as with most surfing sunscreens on the list, Thinksport Sun Bum is water-resistant.
I’ve used it at the beach and even at my home swimming pool, and I can report that it indeed stays on and isn’t washed away.
It makes for a great sunscreen for surfing.
Because Thinksport Sun Bum comes as a lotion, everything that leaves the bottle ends up on your skin. Unlike the powder or liquid sunscreens, it’s not blown into the sand or ocean.
On top of that, it’s hard to accidentally get excess of it on my body, unlike the sprays.
Another attraction with the water-resistant Thinksport Sun Bum is the short ingredient list. It’s the shortest of the sunscreens we’ve seen.
But don’t press the panic button; it’s an effective sunscreen solution against harmful UV rays.
The list of ingredients used is appealing because it’s effective at repelling the sun’s radiation.
In fact, Thinksport Sun Bum offers a broad-spectrum shield from UV light.
It’s the only sunblock my daughter can use. She breaks out in severe eczema with any other product.
With the Thinksport Sun Bum, she can use it during the sunny and hottest days, with minimal application and no irritation or freckling.
Along with the eco-friendly sunscreen ingredients, Thinksport Sun Bum boasts an all-natural formulation that will moisturize and nourish your skin.
My only quibble with Thinksport Sun Bum natural sunscreen is the formula contains added fragrance. This gives it a strong fruity scent.
It may appeal to some, but the artificial smell is more off-putting for me.
#4 Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen – Best Sunscreen for Baby Skin
I’m a frequent visitor to Hawaii, and so I needed a natural zinc oxide sunscreen that would work and keep me away from the harmful sun rays.
I also wanted something safe enough for my baby’s skin.
The Kokua Sun Care seemed like the perfect option.
First, I loved how it didn’t rub off the kids and lasted while at the beach, whether swimming and surfing.
Unlike other sunscreens that wash away, the water beaded upon it, so it stuck for long. This not only helped keep me safer for longer, but I got more value for money because I didn’t need to reapply every so often.
The other attraction with this water-resistant sunscreen was the choice of ingredients. It comes with a whole host of antioxidant-rich Hawaiian “superfoods” that are amazing for my skin.
These include noni-honey & juice, macadamia nut oil, jojoba seed oil, coconut oil, and spirulina, soothing and moisturizing benefits.
So, in addition to sun protection, this waterproof sunscreen will leave your skin glowing and looking younger and more vibrant than ever before.
But one of the standout ingredients was the Zinc Oxide, which is pretty much in a league of its own.
It’s a physical/inorganic sunscreen with a lot of the inorganic sunscreen Titanium Dioxide, but a couple of features make it superior to Titanium Oxide.
One of the benefits is that it works well in protecting users from sunburn, and for us, it worked almost too well. LOL.
See, we’re a family, white as hell, and even after a two-week vacation in Oahu, I didn’t get scraped an inch. We had zero burns and pretty much no color.
Yes, you’ll need a washcloth and soap to remove, but for the first time, I couldn’t believe my scaly Irish legs were this smooth and had a gorgeous sheen.
It’s thick, though, like most sunscreens, and has a haze but not as bad as most. And since it works, it is worth it.
And the final benefit is that it’s truly reef-safe and has no ingredients under the FDA watch for safety concerns on both animals and plants.
The sunscreen is free from oxybenzone, octinoxate, and 30 other harmful chemicals. Hawaii approves it for stringent reef safety.
#5 TropicSport Mineral Sunscreen Lotion – Best All-around Sunscreen for Sun Protection
If you need an all-around sunscreen for your entire family, you can’t go wrong with the Tropicsport Sunscreen Lotion.
I love it because it works well for both adults and kids.
More importantly, it’s free from harmful contents such as Avobenzone and Octinoxate. These are responsible for the environmental degradation of aquatic life.
Instead, it has some really useful ingredients, including titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide, which are friendly to the skin.
I can vouch for this water-resistant sunscreen because I’m prone to burning when exposed to sunlight. But this lotion keeps me from the dangerous UVA and UVB radiation.
With the sunscreen plastered on my skin, I not only surf for hours on end like pros, but I can enjoy having lunch or even tan in the bright sunlight without reddening my skin.
I also get no irritation when I’m exposed to saltwater and other elements.
The other plus with this good sunscreen is that it’s a value pick and lasts longer, three times the typical sunscreens in the market.
While it generally comes in larger packaging, you don’t have to apply much of it for optimum protection.
And when in water, it holds down well and resists getting washed away. It’s water-resistant and even passed the 240-minute and 80-minute resistance tests in Australia and the US.
Applying the Tropicsport is also a breeze because it doesn’t come in a thick texture.
It’s not tacky either and won’t leave you with a goopy white look as the average sunscreen does. Plus, it dries quickly, so it won’t leave you with white marks on your skin.
My only quibble with Tropicsport is it requires a redesign on its packaging.
The container isn’t that flexible, and the tune for dispensing the lotion is small. It comes out slowly due to the viscosity of the zinc, and you’ve to squeeze it.
Otherwise, Tropicsport has knocked the ball out of the park with everything else.
Best Sunscreen for Surfing Buying Guide
For surfers, it’s no surprise that your skin gets a really hard time.
Just think of it for a moment; between the sun, the saltwater, and the wind, you’re putting your largest organ through paces.
The good news is, with the best sunscreen for surfing, you can shield your skin from all elements.
But how do you select the right one for your needs?
We share everything you need to know in the guide below.
But first, let’s look at the different types of UV radiation. Remember the solar radiations are the biggest culprit and do the most damage.
Types of UV Rays
When you’re out in the sun, you’re usually exposed to two forms of UV radiation: UVA and UVB.
1) UVA Rays
UVA rays normally penetrate deeply into the skin and are responsible for tanning (used in tanning bed light).
UVA radiation causes skin aging, wrinkles, and some forms of skin cancers.
It’s fairly consistent during daylight hours all year round.
2) UVB Rays
UVB Rays result in skin reddening and sunburn. It’s the major cause of skin cancer.
Like UVA, it also contributes to tanning and skin aging.
However, unlike UVA, UVB ray levels may vary depending on the altitude, latitude, and day and year.
The good news is a broad-spectrum protection sunscreen (SPF4) can block both forms of rays.
What to Look for When Buying the Best Surfing Sunscreen
Hawaii recently banned non-reef-safe sunscreens.
The non-reef safe sunscreen contains certain harmful ingredients that wash off your skin in the water and may cause harm to coral reefs.
This has paved the way for the creation of more environmentally-friendly sunscreen.
Most of these chemical-free options are zinc-based sunscreens that reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorbing. IT keeps the ocean safe from harmful chemicals.
The best way to ensure your sunscreen is safe for the environment is to ensure it doesn’t contain oxybenzone and octanoate.
SPF Sun Protection 50+ (UV Protection Factor)
The second element to consider is the protection rating of sunscreen.
The SPF factor, the short form for sun protection factor, is the official way of quantifying how high the UV protection a product offers.
The higher the SPF factor, the more your skin is protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
Type of Application
The type of application determines the convenience and ease of use of sunscreen.
Some of the common applications methods include:
- Lotions and milk
While still on the type of application, the best sunscreen for surfing should come with a thickness that is easy to apply to avoid becoming a bother.
Liquid-like sunscreens are easy to spread, but it also means they’ve a lot of alcohol in the formula, so they tend to wash away more than the gels and powders.
On the other hand, Powders are a challenge to apply and may get blown away by the wind.
The best sunscreen for surfing should be water-resistant.
Don’t be misled by those with labels that say “4 hours water resistance”. While it may stay on your body for this amount of time, it will require frequent reapplication for maximum benefit.
A good water-resistant sunscreen isn’t easily washed away and allows water to bead on it.
Sunscreen for Kids and People with Sensitive Skin
Some sunscreens are marketed specifically for kids, infants and toddlers.
These contain more physical blockers and fewer chemical filters.
Therefore, they may be more suitable for adults with sensitive skin- but it’s always good to consult your dermatologist.
When it comes to kids, you should keep them out of the sun (UV Index 3+) as much as possible for the first 12 months.
If unavoidable, use a hat, clothing, or shade. Use sunscreen as a last resort.
The Cancer Council recommends avoiding sunscreen on babies younger than six months.
Getting The Most Out of Your Sunscreen
Most sunscreen failure is down to human error- the best sunscreen for surfing in the world won’t work if you don’t use it properly.
1) Are you using enough sunscreen?
Using less than the recommended amount of sunscreen substantially reduces its effectiveness.
Unfortunately, most brands simply state “Apply Liberally” on the packaging, which doesn’t help.
For optimal efficiency, we would recommend that you apply:
- 1 teaspoon for head and neck
- 2 for the torso
- 2 for the arms
- 2 for legs
Pro Tips of Using Sunscreen
1) Don’t rely on sunscreen alone: Sunscreen is a secondary defense to sunlight. The first one of staying away from the sun as possible
2) Apply the sunscreen on clean, dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going to the sun. It gives enough time to interact with your skin.
3) Cover all the parts of your body not protected by clothing
4) Apply the sunscreen evenly and don’t rub excessively
5) Reapply once, at least after every one or two hours
6) Use sunscreen beyond the water. Consider it whenever you’re the outdoors
7) Don’t use sunscreen that has passed the expiry date
Best Sunscreen for Surfing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: How Do I Get All the Sunscreen Off of Me?
A: A good shower is enough.
Avoid shower gels with strong detergents. Instead, use mild cleaning gels.
Q: What Else Can I Do for Sun Protection While Surfing?
A: There’s not much you can do while you’re actually surfing besides ensuring you’re covered in sunscreen.
Still, you can consider using a beach umbrella, beach tent on a sun hat when taking a break, or not on the surfboard.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best sunscreen for surfing is Banana Boat Sunscreen.
It’s an all-around option and a great purchase for surfers looking for a reliable, easy-to-use, and environmentally-friendly sunscreen.
Banana Boat works well for all users and does a great job of keeping the UVA rays and UVB rays at bay.
It also keeps you protected from other elements such as seawater and is perfect for those with skin allergies.
Banana Boat is also from one of the popular sunscreen brands and is water-resistant, so it doesn’t get washed away easily.
I would recommend it.