Tips for Using Sunscreen Before a Snorkel

The last thing you’ll want to worry about while enjoying Key West snorkeling tours is a bad sunburn. Of course, the combination of reflective water and blazing sunlight is the perfect recipe for a fried back, and you’ll want to apply something with a sufficiently high SPF that will stay on for a good period of time.

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 from protecting the skin from sun damage.


Since snorkelers may spend hours at a time gliding through the water under the mid-day sun, the water resistance of a sunscreen is very important. 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, sunscreens 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 rose hip 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.

Alternative to Sunscreen

If you’re particularly sensitive to the sun, don’t like the feel of sunscreen or are allergic to components of the lotion, you may just want to cover up your skin. A good long-sleeved rash guard of a fabric like quick-drying and breathable nylon/spandex can do a perfect job of covering up arms, torso and even legs from the effects of the sun. That way, you only have to sunscreen legs, neck, ears and hands. Just be sure to put on a sun hat and long-sleeved t-shirt when you get out of the water if you’re not wearing sunscreen.