With the weather warming up and summer holidays just around the corner, people are dusting off their swimsuits ready for a dip in the briney. Public campaigns by charities such as Cancer Research UK have greatly increased the awareness of using sun cream when lounging on a beach, but there is still some confusion around sun protection in the water. For many land lubbers, using their existing suntan lotion whilst taking a quick paddle in the sea is going to be more than adequate. If you intend to spend longer in the ocean, it is advisable to use a specific waterproof sunscreen for swimming.
Why bother with sunscreen when swimming?
Some people think that being in water prevents sunburn. It is probably due to the fact that they feel a lot cooler, especially in the sea around the UK (brrrrrrrr), and cannot feel the suns rays on their body. People are also under the misapprehension that UV rays do not penetrate through water.
When UV rays hit the waters surface, around 30% are reflected, with the remaining 70% penetrating the water. So swimming on the surface is going to expose your body to UV rays directly from the sun and also those reflected from the surrounding water. This is why many swimmers who do not where sunscreen often complain that they get worse sun burn than lying on the beach. It is therefore imperative to get a good quality waterproof sunscreen for swimming.
Why should i wear waterproof sunscreen for swimming?
Most suntan lotions are not suitable for swimmers as they have been formulated to be easily absorbed by the skin without leaving a sticky residue. Unfortunately these are often easily washed off when swimming. Specifically formulated waterproof sunscreens for swimming usually have extra adhesion properties built in to them to prevent them from being rubbed off and washed off from the skin.
Do i need waterproof sunscreen if i am wearing a wetsuit?
The simple answer is yes. The wetsuit material (usually neoprene) with stop the UV rays form reaching your skin but there will be some parts of your body exposed to the sun, such as your feet and head. You need to apply waterproof sunscreen to these areas to prevent them becoming sunburnt, especially the face, as this often receives the most reflected UV rays off the water.
Care should also be taken when reaching the shore and taking off your wetsuit, as most of your skin will not have sunscreen applied. Leaving it exposed whilst ‘warming-up’ is a sure way to get burnt. Even if you feel cold, apply that sunscreen immediately.
How long do Waterproof sunscreens last?
No sunscreens are totally waterproof. They will eventually be washed off. Most waterpoof sunscreens for swimming have an effective time stated on them, either 40 or 80 minutes. If you are planning to stay in the water for longer than this then you need to think about using a wetsuit or a lightweight UV skin suit for extra protection.
Correct application of waterproof sunscreen
With all sunscreens, you have to apply them generously to your skin at least 30 minutes before you go in to the sun to allow them to be absorbed properly. After 40 or 80 minutes (depending on your sunscreen) they will need to be reapplied. If you dry your skin with a towel then you will need to reapply the sunscreen afterwards as well.
If you are intending to swim in waters where you could come in to contact with jellyfish, then you should think about using a waterproof sunscreen with added sting protection. Some like the Lifesystems SPF 50 Sports sunscreen use an extract from plankton which binds to the jellyfish sting sensor and blocks it from sending a message to fire the sting. A mineral salt containing calcium can also added, so if the jellyfish sting sensor does send the message to fire, this mineral salt muddles the message, resulting in no sting.