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Sunblock / Sunscreen

Sunblock is a very, very important addition to your surf equipment collection. Skin cancer is a real threat, and the continuous sun exposure that surfers experience put them at high risk for skin problems. The water is also a highly reflective environment, making the situation worse. Sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful damage, prevent painful sunburn, and also prevent the premature aging of your skin. You don’t want to look like a leathery old bag in 20 years, do you?

Since surfing is a water sport, it’s crucial to get quality sunblock or it will wash away, get in your eyes, and make your board slipperier than a banana peel.

There are a few important factors when choosing and applying a sunscreen:

UVA/UVB protection: Make sure your sunblock protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are responsible for the more damaging effects such as wrinkles, premature aging and cancer causing DNA damage, and UVB rays are responsible for sunburns. UVA rays don’t cause much of a burning effect, so don’t think that just because you don’t burn you’re not damaging your skin.

SPF: SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” It’s a measurement of the strength of the sunblock. Aim for an SPF of 30+. Anything higher than 30 does not offer much additional protection, and anything lower isn’t worth your money if you’re serious about sun protection. Something like SPF 80+ is not necessary.

Greasiness/Oil content: This is important for surfers, since many traditional sunscreens are greasy. This greasy effect will pretty much negate your surf wax, making it useless. You’ll slip off your board faster than you can blink. There are new sunblocks especially designed for water sports, and contain some alcohol that helps it evaporate and absorb more quickly.

Application: Apply your sunscreen liberally 20 minutes before you go out. It actually takes your skin this long to react to the sunblock and get the full effect. This 20 minute time window will allow your skin to absorb most of the lotion so you’re less “greasy” when you hit the water, and you won’t get as much sunblock runoff in your eyes.

Apply every 2-3 hours, especially if you’re in the water.

Make sure you get your lips! You can buy sunblock lip balm with an SPF of 30+, and it usually has a great coconut flavor.

Sunblock Recommendations:

It’s important to take good care of your face, so buy a good sunblock specifically for that purpose. Your facial skin is slightly different from the skin on the rest of your body, prone to breakouts and damage.

For the face:

Sunblock 1

Neutrogena Sheer Dry Touch – Non-greasy, vitamin enriched sunblock that is great for the sensitive skin of your face.

Sunblock 2

Shiseido Sunblock Stick – Highly recommended. You have to find this one at department stores, as it is extremely difficult to find online. You can purchase their lotions online.

For the rest of your body:

Sunblock 3

Bullfrog – Recommended by several surfers I know. Fast absorbing and won’t leave a greasy residue.

Sunblock 4

Coppertone Sport Gel – I used this all summer. Fast absorbing, but don’t inhale right after you put it on your face or you’ll get a burnt lung from all the alcohol used to make it absorb quickly. Great stuff, didn’t sting my eyes at all.

Other methods of sun protection:

Several companies now make rash guards that have an SPF factor. This is a GREAT way to get sun protection without having to slather sunblock all over your body.

Hats are another method of sun protection, best used on lazy summer days when you’re not going to be duckdiving a lot. Keep in mind, however, that water will reflect the sunlight back at you. Sunblock is still necessary when wearing a hat.

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11 years ago

Sun Bum sunscreen is a product I recently started to use and have been pleased. I have it in a spray bottle and lotion. I think it’s kind of a new product because it is tough to find. I got mine from

12 years ago

How do you protect your eyes from the sun?? I don’t want wrinkles and cataracts from squinting all day!

Hayley Gordon
Hayley Gordon
12 years ago

The main problem with higher SPF products is that it gives people a false sense of security.

Sun Expert
Sun Expert
12 years ago

I’m very sensitive to the comment you made above about anything above SPF 30 doesn’t provide additional coverage. This is absolutely untrue. SPF is a measure of time- how long the sun protection lasts. If you use a higher spf, that just means your sunscreen has more sun protecting power for longer, meaning it takes longer for the sunscreen to be rendered inert, or useless. It starts breaking down the moment it’s in the sun. and for surfers in intense sun for prolongued periods, you need all the concentrated power for as long as it will last.

13 years ago

I have read about using Neutrogena Sheer Dry Touch then applying shiseido. My question is when you re-apply, do you smack on the two layers like the first time? Or just the Shiseido stick? Another question, when you apply with the stick, do you rub it in? Or just leave it so it’s got more of a thick layer protection?

Thanks for answering!


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