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UV Protection – How to avoid sunburn while snorkeling

UV protection is one of the most important things you need to think about when heading to the beach. Sunburn is not only painful but also can cause long-term damage to the skin. With our advice and tips, you can learn what the best way is to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, what sun protection clothing to wear when going snorkeling, and what the best beach sunscreens are.

Anett Szaszi - Snorkel Around The World

Written by Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver, and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years of experience. She fell in love with the ocean while snorkeling in the Red Sea on a vacation to Egypt back in 2008. Since then, she has been traveling to discover the world’s best snorkeling spots and sharing her experience and tips to inspire others. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

UV protection on the beach

Protecting our skin from harmful UV rays is something that we should take care about every day but it is crucial on the beach and while water activities. As the holiday season approaches, you need to prepare your skin for the strong sunlight. You don’t get enough sunlight during winter months and your skin turns pale that burns easily.

But don’t be silly and think that you will get a chocolate tan on the first day of your holiday on the beach! Start out by spending 10-20 minutes in the sun wearing UV protective clothing and at least SPF 30 sunscreen.

woman got sunburned on her back
Gradually increase the time spent in the sun and wear sunscreen to avoid getting a sunburn

Gradually increase the time letting your skin get a tan slowly without burning. Sun protection even more important when traveling for a tropical holiday in winter when the skin is even more sensitive towards strong sunlight than during the summer months.

What does UV protection mean?

Sunlight contains 3 different type of UV rays: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. You can hear mainly about UVA and UVB rays skin-damaging effects since UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer meaning no threat.

UVA rays penetrate the skin causing aging and wrinkling. Moreover, the damage can lead to skin cancer too. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and also linked with skin cancer and melanoma development.

woman wearing sunglasses and sun hat
When planning a trip to the beach, don’t forget to pack your sunglasses, sun hat and high SPF cream

Preventing sun damages is a complex yet easy-to-learn practice that includes wearing UV protection clothes, sunglasses, applying sunscreen and avoiding staying in the sun at peak times.

What does UPF mean?

Ultraviolet Protection Factor represents the fraction of UV rays can penetrate the fabric and used to indicate the sun protective feature of clothing. UPF is similar to the SPF rating for sun care products. It was originally enhanced by the American Society for Testing and Materials Committee.

The higher the UPF, the better the protection. UPF50 rating means that the fabric will allow 1/50th of the UV to pass through the fabric. In other words, it blocks approx. 95 % of the UV-B rays and 98 % of the UV-A rays.

5 tips to protect your skin against UV protection on the beach

  • wear UV protection clothing with UPF 30 or higher
  • protect your head, ears and neck with wide-brimmed hat, baseball cap or headscarf
  • apply eco-friendly sunscreen on the areas that are not covered with clothing and reapply every 2 hours
  • use sunglasses with UV protection that blocks the UV light from reaching the eyes
  • stay out of direct sun at peak times (10am-4pm)

UV protection while snorkeling

The chance of getting sunburn is even higher while snorkeling because the water reflects the sunrays. Therefore, taking care of high–level UV protection is crucial if you plan water activities. UPF clothing is as important as having a good snorkel set!

man wearing full body uv protection rash guard while snorkeling
Going snorkeling? Wear UV protection rash guard to protect your skin from the sun and jellyfish stings!

During snorkeling, the most compromised areas are the head, the shoulders, the waist area, and the calves. For the best protection, wear high UPF swimming suit, cover the head and apply ocean-safe sunscreen on the uncovered areas!

UV protection clothing

Clothing is the simplest and most important line defense against sun rays. Even your everyday clothing provides UV protection. For example, a normal white cotton T-shirt has approx. UPF5 rating. It is better than nothing but not effective for staying a long time in the sun, and absolutely not good for snorkeling because the protection that an everyday t-shirt offers is extremely low.

lady snorkeling in cotton t-shirt
Wearing a cotton T-shirt provides you with some level of UV protection, but it is not enough!

Fabrics with spaces between the fibers are not effective in blocking harmful UV rays so they can reach the skin. The best fabrics for sun protection are tightly woven, high-density synthetic fibers like lycra, nylon, polyester offer great protection, so it is not a surpsise why beach sun clothes are made of such fabrics.

The best way to avoid sunburn is to wear special UV protection clothing with high UPF rating that effectively absorbs and blocks harmful radiation. These lightweight, high-elasticity and fast-drying shirts and shorts are absolute essentials for those who spend long hours in direct sunlight. Therefore, regular beachgoers can never have enough of them so whenever you run of out ideas, rash guards and suits are excellent gifts for surfers, snorkelers and divers.

O'Neill Long Sleeve Swim Shirt for Men

  • snug fitting long sleeve rashguard
  • flatlock seams for a soft and durable seam
  • high-level UPF50+ protection
  • lightweight, fast-drying, high-elasticity fabric
  • available in various colors and different sizes

The color is also important. Dark and vivid colors block harmful UV rays more effectively than light ones. It is also important that if the fabric gets stretched, thin and transparent, it loses the majority of its sun protection feature so when choosing UV clothing for snorkeling or just generally to wear at the beach, make sure to get the right size and check if it has at least UPF30 rating!

Rash guard for snorkeling

After ruining our holiday a couple of times due to sunburn, I learned the lessons well and never leave for a snorkeling holiday without UV protection clothing. Rash guards and swim shirts are the best for active water sports offering high-level sun protection and allowing free movements thanks to its properties.

But what is exactly a rash guard? This type of clothing used mainly for water sports protecting the wearer against irritation, rash, and sunburn. Thanks to the high elasticity, light spandex, polyester and nylon fabric it is lightweight and doesn’t limit movements.

Kanu Surf Rashguard

  • Long raglan sleeve rashguard for women
  • Fast drying, machine wash possible
  • UPF 50+ rating
  • available various colors and sizes (XS-XL)

Rash guards originate from Australia where they are called rashies. Nowadays they are used all over the world for any kind of water activity like snorkeling, diving, kitesurfing. Another important factor is that rash guards provide protection not only against sun rays but also against jellyfish stings!

UPF swim shirts are usually loose fitting than rash guards but can be used the same way for protecting the skin against sun exposure. The more areas you cover with UV protection clothes the better! Therefore, we recommend getting UV protection long sleeve shirts, pants or even a full-body UV protection suit.

Full Body Rash Guard

  • Full Body Long-sleeve rash guard for the best protection from irritation, sun exposure and jellyfish
  • comfortable fit thanks to the luxurious fabric made from lycra spandex
  • available for women and men in various colors and sizes

Tip: should you look for sun protective clothing for children, check out our kids snorkel gear guide where we list what products we recommend!

Head sun protection

Your head is almost all the time out of the water during snorkeling, and the wet scalp can burn faster than other parts of your body. Don’t think you only need sun protection if you have bald head since hair doesn’t protect the delicate skin on your head.

Sunburn on your scalp could be painful and dangerous (think about heatstroke). Moreover, the skin is very sensitive on the neck and on the ears too. Therefore, we recommend never go snorkeling without taking care of your head sun protection, even if you plan a short session only.

Long Sleeve Sun Shirt With Hood

  • Skin Cancer Foundation recommended product with UPF 50+
  • comfortable fit with minimal seam placement
  • ferfect for any water activity like surfing, swimming, snorkeling, diving

You can wear a hooded rash guard shirt or full-body UV protection suit with hoodie.  Also, you can get head sun protection items separately as well. Swim cap or UV protective swim bandana works well. But alternatively, even a simple multifunctional sport headband can do the job too!

What sunscreen is the best for the beach

For responsible snorkelers and ocean lovers, when buying a sun lotion it is important that it is safe for the reefs and biodegradable. Our advice is to use a full-body rash guard as the main protection so that you can minimize or even skip using sun lotion.

Never buy sun care products with dangerous ingredients like Oxybenzone and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreen with non-nano Zinc-Oxide and/or Titanium-dioxide are safe to use like the ThinkBaby Safe sunscreen or Raw Elements Natural Sunscreen products. For more information in this topic and to know how a mineral sunscreen works, read our detailed ocean safe sunscreen post!

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