How to avoid sunburn while snorkeling: protect yourself!


Hey guys! So you are thinking about or actually want to go snorkeling. With temperatures soaring, there’s a high chance people are heading to the beach to cool down. I recently dived into the waters myself with my kids for an afternoon of snorkeling. Unfortunately, even underwater, there is no guarantee that we are protected from harsh and strong UV rays

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! 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 for sunprotection. Even your everyday clothing provides UV protection. For example, a normal white cotton T-shirt has UPF5 protection. It is better than nothing but not effective for staying a long time in the sun. The best way to avoid sunburn is wearing special UV protection clothing like rash guards with high UPF rating that effectively absorbs and blocks the harmful radiation. These lightweight, high-elasticity and fast-drying materials are the best to wear on the beach and for any water activity!

  • TSLA’s original Rashguard Tops lineup designed specifically for water sports and Surfing
  • Durable high-density fabric that protects against rashes and abrasions. Stretchable fabric with water shedding capabilities
  • UPF 50+ : Fabric this rash guard has, protects against 98% of harmful rays for all day protection.

Catching The Rays

Solar radiation that strikes the Earth includes 50 percent visible light (wavelength 400 to 800 nanometers), 40 percent infrared (1,300 to 1,700 nm), and 10 percent ultraviolet (UV — 10 to 400 nm). Sunburn is a photosensitivity reaction caused by exposure of the skin to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun. UVA is 320 to 400 nm, UVB is 290 to 320 nm and UVC is 100 to 290 nm. UVC is filtered out by the ozone (a triatomic form of oxygen) layer of the atmosphere. UVB is the culprit in the creation of sunburn. UVA is of less immediate danger, but is a serious cause of skin aging, drug-related photosensitivity and skin cancer.

Ultraviolet exposure has many variables: the time of day (greatest between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.), season (greater in the summer), altitude (there is a 4- to 6-percent increase per each 1,000 feet/304 m of elevation above sea level), location (greater near the equator) and weather (greater in the wind).

Divers are at particular risk for sunburn because water may reflect 10 to 100 percent of UVR, depending upon the time of day, location and surface. (“Flat” is more reflective than “chop.”) Most clothes reflect (light-colored) or absorb (dark-colored) UVR. However, it is important to note that wet cotton of any color probably transmits considerable UVR, so snorkeling in a plain white T-shirt may provide very little protection from the sun.

Skin darkening occurs immediately upon UVA exposure, as melanin (pigment) already present in the skin is released. This effect only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. Tanning occurs after a minimum of three days of exposure, as additional melanin is produced. If the skin is not conditioned with gradual doses of UVR (tanning), a burn can be created.

A person’s sensitivity to UVR depends on his or her skin type and thickness, pigment in the skin and weather conditions. (See the sidebar “Sun-Reactive Skin Types.”) Well-hydrated thetic sprays, many of which contain benzocaine, should be avoided, as they can occasionally cause sensitization and an allergic reaction. Menthol-containing lotions may be helpful. Topical steroids do not diminish sunburn.

If the victim is deep-red in color without blisters (first-degree burn), a stronger anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, may be given. An extensive non blistering first-degree sunburn can make the victim nauseated and weak, with low-grade fever and chills. This victim should be encouraged to drink enough balanced electrolyte liquids to avoid dehydration. Since the skin is the major thermoregulatory organ of the body, a diffuse sunburn will make the victim more prone to hypothermia upon exposure to cold. This is obviously problematic for a diver. It will also be painful to don and doff dive equipment, as the straps rub across sensitive burned skin.

Best fabric for sun protection

As mentioned above, all clothes provide a certain level of sun protection but fabrics with spaces between the fibers are not effective in blocking harmful UV rays so they can reach the skin. Tightly woven, high-density synthetic fibers like lycra, nylon, polyester offer great protection. 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. To be on the safe side, buy clothes that have at least UPF30 rating!

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.

Wear 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? These 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.

  • 82% Polyester, 18% Spandex
  • Color block striped Rashguard top features quick drying, breathable, moisture wicking fabric for all day comfort
  • UPF 50 fabrication protects skin by blocking harmful Ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays
  • Banded crew neck swim top with raglan sleeves allows arms for full range of movement

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 a bald head since hair doesn’t protect the delicate skin on your head. Sunburn on your scalp could be painful and dangerous (think about heat stroke). Moreover, skin is very sensitive on the neck and on the ears too. Therefore, we recommend you never go snorkeling without taking care of your head sun protection, even if you plan a short session only. You can wear a hooded rash guard shirt or full body UV protection suit with a hoodie.  Also, you can get head sun protection items separately as well. Swim cap or UV protective swim bandana works the best. But alternatively, even a simple multifunctional sport headband can do the job too!

COPOZZ Diving Skin, Men Women Youth Thin Wetsuit Rash Guard- Full Body UV Protection

  • Full body cover diving skin provides the best protection against sea lice, jellyfish, coral reef and other biological irritants. Perfect to wear in the ocean or any other water area.
  • This full suit is perfect in all conditions. Full-body & long-sleeve design with a special UV protection coating layer helps to reduce harms from sunlight. 
  • Dive skin made of soft and luxurious Lycra spandex, comfortable to wear with great ventilation, no color fading

The SPF Factor

Many manufacturers claim to peddle a product with an SPF of over 50, the magic figure for staying well-protected both in and out of the water, even in the tropical sunshine of the Florida Keys. However, snorkeling enthusiasts should also pay attention to another figure on the sunscreen label, a relatively new four-star rating system that will tell you how well the sunscreen shields your skin from Ultraviolet A (UVA) light. This is an important factor when you want to protect your skin from sun damage.


Since snorkelers may spend hours at a time gliding through the water under the midday sun , the water resistance of a sunscreen is very important for sun protection. The FDA considers any sunscreen that retains its efficacy up to 40 minutes in a pool to be water resistant. So, if you’re swimming it will be necessary to apply often during your outing.

Allergies and Irritations

Generally, when you apply sunscreen with natural mineral blockers like titanium oxide and zinc are safer for the skin than those with chemical blockers. However, many people find the feel and smell of mineral sunscreen to be irritating and uncomfortable. One solution to this quandary is to use a better quality non-mineral sunscreen like Beyond Coastal’s Active Sunscreen. This SPF 30 product is non-greasy and transparent with good UVA/UVB protection combined with a soothing combination of natural skin-nourishing ingredients like shea butter, green tea, aloe and rosehip oil.

Environmental Considerations

Reefs are fragile natural habitats, and one way to help preserve these undersea wonderlands is by trying to use reef friendly and biodegradable sunscreens while snorkeling. Many of the more well-known sunscreen brands contain chemicals that can harm corals, to the extent that in many parts of the world you’re no longer allowed in the water to snorkel unless you’re wearing a biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen. It stands to reason that if these chemicals are bad for the environment, they are also bad for your skin. Look on any sunscreen label for the chemicals you should avoid: parabens, benzophenones like avobenzone and oxybenzone, and various camphor derivatives. Today’s new natural sunscreens, also called physical sunscreens, don’t leave you as pasty white as their predecessors. Some good products include Mexitan’s Coral Safe/Tropical Sands, Badger and Soleo Organics.

Sunscreen for snorkeling

For responsible snorkelers and ocean lovers, to avoid sun exposure. 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 that contain dangerous ingredients like Oxybenzone and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreen with non-nano Zinc-Oxide and/or Titanium-dioxide are safe to use like when you apply sunscreen, the ThinkBaby Safe sunscreen  or Raw Elements Natural Sunscreen  products. For more information in this topic and to know how mineral sunscreen works, read our detailed ocean safe sunscreen post!

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