What is the best surf sunscreen?

Each year I spend well over 130 days in the mountains and probably another 100+ days in the surf. The sun hammers my skin. And at 33 years old, it’s starting to show.

 

I put all this stuff all over my skin – my body’s biggest organ, yet I have no idea what’s actually in it! That scares the hell out of me. So I wanted to take a look at the best surf sunscreen on the market & shed some light on a few things to help you chose wisely.

 

The biggest, most shocking thing I discovered during this process, is if the product contained mostly natural ingredients and was a physical blocker, also claiming to protect you in the water, they were not called sunscreens. I thought that was odd.

 

The FDA (in the USA) and TGA (in Australia) license what can and can’t be used to classify sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only natural ingredients that made the cut. But regulations don’t currently allow manufacturers to specify the thickness of product needed to give ample protection. This works against non-nano zinc products that need to be applied thickly to your skin to give you ample protection. This is why we get names like ‘Sun Paste’, ‘Tinted Covering Cream’ or products just classifying themselves as cosmetics.

 

It’s amazing how little I knew about sunscreens, labeling, and what is SPF.

In an effort to break it down, here’s the crux of it…

Physical blocker sunscreens for surfing

Rocking a thick skin coloured layer of a natural, physical blocker ‘sunscreen’

 

 

 

Physical blockers versus chemical blockers

Sunscreens come in two forms, chemical absorber sunscreens or physical/mineral blocker sunscreens.

 

Chemical absorbers – also called organic sunscreens (confusing right?), absorb UV radiation and stop them from penetrating the skin. They have ingredients like oxybenzone (also damages reefs), avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

  • Pros: Absorbed so can’t be seen physically on the skin
  • Cons: Can come with a whole load of nasty toxins, so it’s good to read the label.

 

Mineral or physical blockers are also called inorganic sunscreens physically block, scatter or reflect the UV radiation. They have ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

  • Pros: Considered safer and more effective than chemical absorbers
  • Cons: From a physical layer on the skin and leave a ghostly white hue

 

Physical versus chemical sunscreens

 

So to stop the white ghostly hue that can come from physical blockers, sunscreen manufacturers tried to make the particles in the physical blockers smaller to create a clearer, absorbent sunscreen … Enter nano sized particles.

 

 

Nano versus non-nano particles

Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide particles were manufactured really small so they wouldn’t look so white on our skin. By small, I mean tiny: smaller than 100 nanometers, or 0.000001 of a millimeter. Maybe small enough to be absorbed by our cells, and into our bloodstream. Research from EWG thinks so, suggesting that the chemicals commonly used in sunscreen are endocrine disruptors, estrogenic, and may interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body.

 

And that’s what has people worried, especially the chemical Oxybenzone, which was found in 96% of the population by a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Oxybenzone is considered an endocrine disruptor, reducing sperm count in men and potentially contributing to endometriosis in women. As mentioned earlier, it is also one of the chemicals in sunscreens damaging our coral reefs. (NOAA 2015). 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up on coral reefs each year.

 

While the scientific jury is still out whether these teeny-tiny particles can enter our cells and cause damage to our organs, big pharmacy doesn’t want you to make your purchase decisions on nano or non-nano ingredients. In 2011 Invisible zinc, an awesome company we review below, that use non-nano zinc was pressured by the TGA (Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Association) to remove labels communicating their product was ‘nano free’. This is because the TGA was concerned this messaging could imply that sunscreens containing nanoparticles are unsafe. One could also argue, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent, scaring companies from labeling their products, resulting in consumers being left in the dark. Personally, I’d want to know.

 

Either way, it’s up to you to make your own mind up on nano versus non-nano. Do your research and don’t buy spray nano sunscreens, they are banned in a lot of countries anyway.

 

Here are some good studies:

This is the friends of the Earth – Safe Sunscreen Guide

Nanoparticles in Sunscreens

The best surf sunscreens

 

Why is it important to test sunscreens in the surf?

Sunscreen efficacy decreases in the water or with sweating. In the tropics, not only are you surfing in the water, you are also sweating buckets from the humidity. What might be ‘water resistant for up to 4 hours’ in the lab, won’t last 30 minutes in the surf. Anyone that surfs knows this. And you also know how annoying it is for your eyes to burn or your hands to be so slippy you slid off your board on every pop-up.

 

So with that background knowledge on the world of chemical and physical sunscreens, we reviewed and tested some of the most popular surf sunscreens on the market.

 

What were we looking for:

  • Can it with stand a long surf session?
  • Does it come off in my eyes?
  • Does it keep my skin from burning?
  • Is it easy to put on and take off?
  • Will it kill me… only joking but seriously, what’s in this stuff?

 

 

Sun Bum performance sunscreen premium zinc SPF 40

– $17.99 USD

Sun Bum - best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • A formula with as few FDA and SCF approved chemicals as possible
  • UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection
  • High-Performance Premium Zinc Formula
  • Water Resistant / 80 Minutes / Made in USA
  • Paraben Free / PABA Free
  • Oil Free / Fragrance-Free
  • Petroleum Free / Cruelty-Free

 

Nano or non-nano?

Nano zinc oxide also containing Oxybenzone (absorber)

 

What we loved?

Really easy to put on with this slightly rough, exfoliation texture so you knew where you were rubbing it in when you didn’t have a mirror to use (standard). It lasted the whole session and was absorbed clear into the skin so not making me look like Casper The Friendly Ghost in the lineup. It didn’t leave my hands too greasy either so that I slipped off my board. But looking at the ingredients, there are a few things that scare me when cross-referenced with this list from Environmental Working Group. There is loads of info on their website talking about their choice of ingredients.

 

 

Sun Bum is a really cool brand with a really strong range of products. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the hair products especially the 3-in-1 after surf spray that smells like coconuts (I digress…). I also use their sun stick when snowboarding… you smell of the beach when on the top of a mountain freezing your tits off!

 

 

MANDA Organic Sun Paste – Labelled SPF 50 on their website, but not on packaging

– $28 USD for 40g

Manda - best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • It’s a sun paste so a physical sunscreen
  • Food safe-ingredients
  • Exceptionally waterproof/sweatproof and made to last
  • Reef Safe
  • A sustainable sunscreen

 

Nano or non-nano

Non-nano zinc oxide

 

What we loved?

This stuff smells absolutely amazing, like something you can eat. They even warn against eating it on their website. I guess, if it’s good enough to eat, it’s safe to put on your skin? It’s got so many yummy ingredients in it.

 

I loved this product, especially the cool wood packaging. But it wasn’t easy to get put on. You had to rub it and warm it with your fingers to get it to soften up. And being a physical sunscreen of non-nano particles, it leaves a visible layer on my skin which isn’t something I mind when surfing. Personally, I like to see a sunscreen still on my face after a surf. This one you can surf in for hours. Need to take off with wipes.

 

It may have been tough to put on as I was testing it in Australian winter c. 16 degrees Celsius. I expect it will soften up in warmer temperatures.

 

 

Surf Yogis – Can not be called a sunscreen

– $24.95 USD for 60g

Surf Yogis - best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • 100% natural sunscreen
  • Only natural and clean ingredients
  • Chocolate, beeswax, zinc oxide and coconut oil
  • So pure it’s edible!!
  • Lasts for hours and works 100% of the time
  • Registered in Bali, Indonesia

 

Nano or non-nano?

Non-nano zinc oxide

 

What we loved?

Much like Manda Organic sun paste, this stuff smelt absolutely amazing but was hard to put on. I had to warm it up quite a lot with my fingers before it came soft enough to spread on my skin. Then it wasn’t too easy to spread. It had a slight purple tone to it which made me look a little dead looking! But knowing that it had absolutely no crap in it, this is such a small price to pay. Also, needs to be washed off like all physical blockers.

 

On a side note: They sell these small tins of it which are absolutely THE PERFECT size to keep in my pocket when snowboarding. Can re-apply to my nose and chin all day long.

 

 

Ella Baché Great Sunguard Foundation SPF40 – classified as makeup

– $48 AUD for 30ml

Ella Bache - best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • Balanced UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection
  • Powerful selection of Super-fruit antioxidants to help guard aging skin
  • Organic UV Absorbers

 

Nano or non-nano

Non-nano. Zinc Oxide and Tinanium Dioxide

 

What we loved?

A lot of female pro surfers swear by this Ella Baché product, opting for the foundation over the sun cream.  At first, I felt a bit claustrophobic with this thick layer of ‘paint’ that made it hard for my skin to breathe. But I soon got used to it (maybe I layered it on too thick). Easy to put on but hard to take off, I needed to use wipes like Tapa Reef natural zinc remover to get it all off. It lasted a solid three-hour surf session and gave me great protection. I also looked really good, haha! It is expensive though but I really liked it. My skin felt great afterward too.

 

Loved this product. May even start wearing it out of the surf! It did get all over my board and my wetsuit though and when worn as makeup you do look like you are wearing a mask. Some girls are into that though…

 

 

Surf Mud‘Tinted Covering Cream’ – can not be called a sunscreen

– $19.95 AUD for 45g tin

Surf Mud - The best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • Natural zinc + beeswax, natural lanolin, coconut oil-derived CC/C (certified natural), kaolin clay and iron oxides for natural colour
  • Extreme cover from the elements in tropical conditions
  • Made by surfers from the Sunshine Coast, for surfers all over the world
  • NO chemical UV blockers or preservatives which can irritate eyes

 

Nano or non-nano?

30% Non-nano Zinc Oxide (effective physical UV blocker)

 

What we loved?

This stuff is amazing. Way easier to put on then Surf Yogis or MANDA. It went on similar to the Ella Baché foundation but more like a paste. It didn’t come off in the surf either so I didn’t have to worry about it. Like the Ella Baché product, it made my skin feel really good afterward AND due to the colour and thick texture, I also looked really good, LOL! Like all physical blockers, you need to wash it off after or use a zinc remover wipe like Tapa Reef.

 

Surf Mud was my favourite.

 

 

Invisible Zinc Face + Body Sunscreen SPF 50

– $19.99 AUD for 75g

Invisible zinc sunscreen - best surf sunscreen

 

What they say:

  • Micronised zinc oxide
  • Contains moisturisers
  • No parabens, mineral oils or PABAs
  • Rubs in easily and dries clear

 

Nano or non-nano?

Invisible Zinc® uses micro-fine Zinc Oxide (Nano? – they are unclear on their website).

 

What we loved?

It does what it says on the tin. At first, it goes on with a thin white hue but then it dries clear. I love this product for my whole body when surfing in a bikini but for my face, I prefer something thicker, that does not melt into my eyes. It is a damn good product and great value for the volume you get. I would recommend using this one on your body. Non-greasy so you won’t slide off your board and it worked for about 2 hours in the surf. Feels really good to put on. Bets remove with wipes.

 

 

Summit Balm – Undercover Zinc – Can not be called a sunscreen

– $20 AUD for 100g

Summit Balm undercover zinc

 

What they say:

  • All natural zinc blend disguised using mineral clay
  • Paraben, alcohol, colour, flavour, preservative, and fragrance-free
  • Ingredients: Shea butter, natural clay, non-nano zinc oxide, candelilla wax, coconut oil, vitamin E oil

 

Nano or non-nano?

Non-nano

 

What we loved?

This product softens up nicely when you rub it in your hands. Having Shea butter and coconut oil as the base made sure it went on nicely but also means you have to wash your hands before surfing or you’ll slide all over the place. I preferred to put it on my body rather than my face for a surf. It feels like a gorgeous moisturizer when used on your body. Great for every day use and awesome to know it has protection from the sun. They do a really good lip balm with beeswax and zinc oxide too that is great for everyday use. Look into what is in your standard lip balms, it’s terrifying… you end up eating that stuff!

 

 

So there you have it. A quick rundown of some of the best surf sunscreens on the market. I’m all for supporting smaller businesses that are trying to produce a product specifically for us surfers. No need to buy mass-produced big-pharmacy crap that isn’t even tested in the ocean. The stuff tested in labs won’t cut it on a sweaty 2-hour surf. So if you are in need of a new sunscreen, check these guys out and buy in bulk for your mates and benefit from many of the discounts they offer.

 

Look after your skin. Don’t put shit on it or in the ocean. Support small business & have a good surf 🙂



 

About the author

Alexa

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream.
I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)

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