May 25, 2024
sun protection while surfing

Sun Protection While Surfing

Whether you are surfing in San Diego or in the tropics, good sun protection while surfing is super important. Spending your days on the water is a surefire way to lead to early skin damage. In my experience, proper sun protection while surfing is an easy way to combat the effect of the sun.

In this post, I’ll help you choose the best sunscreen for surfing, best surfing rash guards and best surf hats.

Do note that I earn a small commission through Amazon from any gear purchased on this page – I appreciate your support!

Best Sunscreen for Surfing

The first defense for sun protection while surfing is the type of sunscreen you apply. Generally, sunscreen is most important for your face while surfing because typically either a wetsuit or surfing rash guard covers and protects the rest of your body. As such, this first section will cover the best sunscreen for surfing.

While many surfers talk about zinc sunscreen for surfing, I actually prefer a traditional sunscreen for surfing; i.e. one that rubs in fully. In my opinion, the best surfing sunscreen is Sun Bum’s Clear Lotion. This sunscreen is made with Aloe and Vitamin E which is good for the skin. Better yet, it’s made to be water resistant for 80 minutes which is about the length of a good surf session.

best sunscreen for surfing

Alternatively, many surfers prefer zinc sunscreen for surfing. Zinc sunscreen is the type of sunscreen that doesn’t fully rub in when applied. This is because zinc sunscreen sits on the top of skin acting like a barrier and reflecting UV rays off the skin. As such, zinc sunscreen can be a more powerful sun protection while surfing than traditional sunscreen.

Zinc sunscreen for surfing usually comes in a roll on stick like Zinca.

zinc sunscreen for surfing

Best Eco Friendly Sunscreens

Eco friendly sunscreen also known as ‘reef safe’ sunscreen have continued to grow in popularity. Reef friendly or eco friendly sunscreens are made with non-nano titanium oxide to avoid harming coral reef.  The difference between reef safe sunscreen and normal sunscreen is that normal sunscreen contains UV blocking chemicals which bleach coral reef.

My favorite eco friendly sun screen is made by a local San Diego company, Surf Durt. Surf Durt is a canned rub on sunscreen made with all natural ingredients. The ingredients are good for not only for your body but also minimize harm to the ocean and coral reefs.

best eco friendly sunscreens

What SPF Sunscreen Needed for Surfing?

Oftentimes, the time of day you go surfing will dictate how much sun protection you need while surfing. Particularly, choosing the correct SPF sunscreen for surfing is important.

For example, if you are surfing an early morning dawn patrol session, SPF 30 will do fine. However, I suggest an SPF of 50 if surfing mid-day. The reflection of the sun off the water is why a higher SPF while surfing is needed. Don’t be fooled either by cloudy days common during May grey months, a high sunscreen SPF for surfing is still needed.

In conclusion, I recommend using an SPF 30-50 sunscreen for surfing. Over 97% of harmful rays are blocked by an SPF 30 while over 98% of harmful rays are blocked by an SPF 50. If you have fair skin, level up. Also, don’t forget to reapply if out in the sun for more than 90 minutes.

Surfing Rash Guards for Sun Protection while Surfing

Beyond sunscreen, there are other ways to obtain quality sun protection while surfing. In colder water climates, you might be wearing a wetsuit. However, if the water is warm or you are somewhere tropical; sun protection for your body while surfing is a must.

For this reason, I always suggest getting yourself a quality surfing rash guard. Surfing rash guards are not only good for sun protection while surfing but they also prevent rashes on your chest and belly from your board rubbing on bare skin.

Surfing rash guards come as both loose fitting or tight fitting and short sleeve or long sleeve. Personally, I prefer a tight fit surfing rash guard so as to prevent drag while I’m paddling in the water. I also prefer a short sleeve surfing rash guard, but a long sleeve is necessary if you plan to be surfing for hours in the tropics.

Quicksilver makes a nice tight fitted, short sleeve surfing rash guard.

sun protection while surfing

Best Surf Hats for Sun Protection

Your last measure of sun protection while surfing is a surf hat. Surf hats are recommended if you have sensitive skin and/or are spending hours surfing in the sun. At these times, a good SPF surfing sunscreen may not be enough.

Surf hats come with either just a front cap or a brim around your entire head. Typically, they also have a string or Velcro that ties under your chin so that it doesn’t fall off while surfing or duck diving.

A classic surf hat with just the front brim is made by Dakine.

sun protection while surfing

Final Words on Sun Protection while Surfing

In conclusion, there are a variety of methods to maintain proper sun protection while surfing. I always recommend to begin with a surfing sunscreen that has a solid SPF. From there, you can get extra coverage like a surfing rash guard or surf hat as needed, and depending on the conditions. For more information, my personal Gear Guide goes into more depth on my favorite surfing accessories.


  • Gavin Bechtold

    Gavin has been living and surfing in San Diego for over a decade. He loves the ocean and is lucky to call San Diego home. Frustrated with mainstream reviews, he set out to create the best source of surf reviews for San Diego beaches. Check the About page for more info!