7 Best Sunscreens for Surfing (With pictures)

There is no denying how important it is to take care of our skin.

With the globe heating up and the sun becoming more intense, we should all make use of some sort of protection.

Wetsuits, hats, and rash vests all work well for surfing, but they leave exposed areas on our hands, feet, necks, and face that only sunscreen can successfully protect.

Some sunscreens work better than others in the ocean as they have a higher SPF, are water-resistant, and are reef-friendly.

Below is a list of some of the best sunscreens for surfing, and what you should look for when buying new sunscreen before hitting the waves.

The 7 Best Sunscreens for Surfing

  1. Sun Bum Original SPF 50
  2. EltaMD Broad Spectrum SPF 46
  3. Blue Lizard SPF 50
  4. Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70
  5. CETAPHIL Sheer Mineral SPF 50
  6. Thinksport SPF 50
  7. Vetra Mick Fanning signature SPF 35
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Best Sunscreens for Surfing

1. Sun Bum Original SPF 50

Sun Bum Original SPF 50
$15.97 ($2.66 / Ounce)
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02/18/2024 11:27 pm GMT

Sun Bum is a well-established sunscreen brand that has produced countless quality products.

The Original Sun Bum is a perfect broad-spectrum sunscreen with moisturizing properties as well as being reef friendly.

This sunscreen is sold in a spray bottle which makes the application simple and mess-free.

This product is water-resistant and has Vitamin E as an active ingredient which makes it ideal for keeping your skin moisturized and protected while surfing.

2. EltaMD Broad Spectrum SPF 46

If you are suffering from sensitive skin or acne, spending time in the salty ocean can make this worse.

Add some sunscreen to your already dry skin, and the problem becomes worse.

Luckily, the broad-spectrum sunscreen from EltaMD is a moisturizing, dermatologist-approved, SPF 46 sunscreen for sensitive skin.

This product contains 9.0% zinc oxide which helps protect your skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, all while promoting healthy skin thanks to added antioxidants.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen is oil-free and has no scent which makes it ideal for a wider range of individuals.

3. Blue Lizard SPF 50

Blue Lizard SPF 50
$14.98 ($3.00 / Fl Oz)
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02/19/2024 05:51 am GMT

Blue Lizard is an Australia-based sunscreen brand that has been developing ideal skin protection that works under the harsh Aussie sun for over 20 years.

Containing no oxybenzone or octinoxate, this sunscreen from Blue Lizard is reef-friendly and ideal for sensitive skin.

Added minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide outstanding protection from the sun, while the lack of added fragrances keeps the cream gentle on your skin.

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The SPF 50 is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, which makes it last nearly double the time of previous Blue Lizard products.

4. Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70

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Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70
$9.60 ($1.43 / Fl Oz)
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02/19/2024 02:59 pm GMT

Another broad-spectrum, oil-free sunscreen that is ideal for surfing and other water-related activities.

This sunscreen is lightweight and easy to carry to and from the beach. 

With an SPF of 70, you can expect superior sun protection, however, the product is not reef-friendly, and therefore should be considered carefully before being used in the ocean.

5. CETAPHIL Sheer Mineral SPF 50

If you are not a fan of sunscreen creams and sprays, then the Sheer Mineral sunscreen stick from CETAPHIL could be a good choice for you.

This unscented, vitamin e activated sunscreen stick has an SPF of 50 and a specific micro-biome formula that locks in moisture to hydrate sensitive and delicate skin.

This screen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is oil-free which makes it easily blend into your skin without leaving creamy or oily patches.

6. Thinksport SPF 50

Thinksport SPF 50
$11.59 ($3.86 / Ounce)
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02/19/2024 06:19 pm GMT

Thinksport was the first sunscreen to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care requirements and has since been a leader in sports sunscreen production.

This SPF 50 sunscreen is reef-friendly, water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and contains active ingredients vitamin E, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.

This product is vegan and animal friendly, comes in a convenient travel-sized tube, and is unscented to reduce damage to sensitive skin.

7. Vetra Mick Fanning Signature SPF 35

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Vetra Mick Fanning Signature SPF 35
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02/19/2024 10:06 am GMT

We all know those signature products from professional surfers are often overpriced, but they tend to come with the best quality around.

The Mick Fanning signature sunscreen stick from Vetra is a foundation, zinc-based sunscreen that leaves a coat over your skin for maximum protection.

Although zinc-based sunscreens don’t rub into your skin, they form a coat that blocks UVA and UVB rays better than traditional sunscreens.

This zinc sunscreen is reef-friendly and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Although the base leaves a visible trace on your skin, the tint is light and blends well with a non-greasy finish.

Although this is only an SPF 35 sunscreen, thanks to the zinc, it holds superior protection.

Sunscreen for Surfing Buyers Guide

There is an abundance of sun care products on the market, and none of them are cheap.

Choosing between thousands of sunscreen products is a near-impossible task, and when you are looking for a sunscreen that is surfing specific, the task can become slightly trickier.

What to look for when buying sunscreen for surfing?

Before buying a new bottle of sunscreen for surfing, you should consider the following criteria to ensure that your new product covers all of your needs:

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sunscreen for surfing – what to look for?

Although the above are important aspects to consider, your choice should not only be limited by this list.

Sunscreen SPF

The sun protection factor (SPF) is a number that appears on all sunscreens and is an indication of how well the product protects you from the sun’s UV rays.

A sunscreen’s SPF measures how many ultraviolet rays it absorbs or reflects from your skin.

That being said, a higher SPF is not necessarily better.

An SPF of 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays and SPF blocks 97%. After this, higher SPF sunscreens make little difference.

SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays and SPF 100 blocks 100%.

With that being said, you should aim at purchasing a sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF if you will be surfing, which should be sufficient if it is re-applied according to the producer’s recommendations.

A sunscreen with an SPF that is too low will not provide sufficient protection, while a sunscreen with an extremely high SPF will provide slightly more protection, but will cost significantly more, which may be a waste of money as most of it will wash off while you surf.

Water Resistance

Although nowadays most sunscreens are water-resistant, not all of them are, and not all sunscreens are water-resistant to the same degree.

As you will be spending extended time in water (because you are surfing) you will need a sunscreen that does not lose its effectiveness when it makes contact with water.

It is important to take note that your sunscreen is both sweat and water-resistant.

As a rule of thumb, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, however, when in the water your sunscreen should last at least 80 minutes before needing another coat.

If your sunscreen washes away sooner than this you will constantly need to exit the water and miss out on some of the day’s prime waves.

Active Ingredients

In order for your sunscreen to effectively protect you from the sun, it needs to contain ingredients that block or absorb the sun’s harmful radiation.

Some common active ingredients in sunscreen include, but are not limited to:

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The above are ingredients commonly found in different mixtures and quantities in sunscreens around the USA. 

Although these ingredients have proven to block or absorb UVA or UVB rays, not all of them are environmentally friendly, and some have been flagged as potentially hazardous to our health.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are, as of now, the only FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients, as well as remain environmentally friendly.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate have been found to have negative effects on coral reefs and the ecology of the ocean, while many other chemicals are yet to be further investigated by the FDA.

Environmental Impacts

As mentioned above, sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate have adverse effects on the growth of coral reefs.

Without reefs the ecology of the ocean breaks down, not to mention no more hollow reef-breaking waves.

Because of this, there are many zinc-based sunscreens or sunscreens that are made reef safe by avoiding harmful chemicals.

As a surfer who relies heavily on the natural world, you should strongly consider taking a more ecological approach to your surf accessories.

Sunscreen Container

Although it might not be as important as the above points, the container that your sunscreen is held in will make some difference to your day.

Depending on your preference you may want to make use of a spray, cream, or sunscreen stick.

Any of the above will perfectly suit surfing, just make sure that the container is small enough to fit neatly into your surfboard travel bag.

Skin Sensitivity

If you have sensitive skin, you likely struggle to find a sunscreen that suits you.

Luckily, there is an abundance of sunscreen that is made to be gentle on your skin.

Using a sunscreen that has no added scent or color will be gentler on your skin, while additives such as vitamin A will help retain moisture.

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What Is Reef-Friendly Sunscreen?

Reef-friendly sunscreen is simply a sunscreen that is created with the ocean in mind, and that takes steps to avoid further destruction of coral reefs.

In order to do this, these sunscreens avoid chemicals that are used to absorb the sun’s UV and instead make use of sun-blocking minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

According to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, from New York, reef-safe sunscreens contain only sun-blocking minerals such as those mentioned above.

If you are looking for reef-safe sunscreen then the following should be avoided:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (look for micro-particles or non-nano particles).
  • Microplastics such as exfoliating beads.

What Is the Best Sunscreen for Surfing?

The best sunscreen for surfing is up to each individual and their specific preferences.

That being said, there are some characteristics that your sunscreen should have:

  • An SPF of at least 30.
  • Sweat and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
  • Be reef friendly.
  • Non-oily (to prevent slipping from your surfboard).
  • Come in a small convenient container and be simple to apply.

If your sunscreen meets all the above requirements, it doesn’t matter if it is a stick, cream, or spray.

What Kind of Sunscreen Do Surfers Use?

There is no specific type of sunscreen or sunblock that surfers use, however, it is common for surfers to make use of sunblocks (those that don’t contain chemicals that are harmful to the ocean).

Apart from the environmental factor, surfers enjoy using sunblocks containing zinc as it does not wash off easily when in the ocean and provides a stronger block from the sun thanks to the thick layer it creates.

What Sunscreen Is Best for the Ocean?

As mentioned above, sunscreens that are ocean-friendly should not contain chemicals from the pre-mentioned list.

The best sunscreen to use in the ocean is those that use zinc oxide or titanium oxide, which will not cause harm to the ocean’s reefs.

Sunscreens that contain absorbing chemicals as opposed to the blocking minerals of sunblocks, should be avoided when you enter the ocean and are therefore not ideal for surfers.

That being said, the environmental effects of sunscreen do not stop at the chemicals used within the lotion but include the manufacturing process of both the container and the sunscreen, as well as what happens to the container once the product is finished.

When possible, seek to find sunscreen products that offer refills instead of new containers.

Alliteratively, you could consider buying sunblock sticks that are contained in biodegradable material.

What Is the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

The main difference between sunscreen and sunblock is the way in which they protect your skin.

Sunscreens contain organic chemical compounds which rely on a chemical reaction in order to absorb the sun’s UV rays, convert them into heat, and release the heat from your skin.

Sunblocks, on the other hand, contain mineral ingredients, such as those mentioned above.

These minerals physically block UV rays, as opposed to absorbing them.

The application of the two sun care products is also different. 

As sunscreen only works when it’s absorbed by the skin, it needs to be rubbed in, and a period of time is needed to have waited before the chemicals work.

Sunblock, on the other hand, can be layered on top of the skin but will leave a white or tanned color behind (depending on the shade of sunblock). 

Sunscreens are typically designed to protect you from UVA rays (that promote skin damage), while sunblock is typically used to prevent UVB rays (rays that cause sunburn).

That being said, many sunscreens and sunblocks are created with both UVA and UVB rays in mind, and therefore will work to protect you from both.


Whether you are surfing in the tropics with nothing but your board shorts or bikini, or if you are surfing the icy giants of Ireland, it is important to protect your exposed skin from the harmful rays generated by the sun.

Although there are countless sunscreens and sunblocks to choose from, you should always make sure your new sun protection has a sufficient SPF, is water-resistant, and will not cause unnecessary harm to the ocean and the rest of the environment.

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