Gear Guide: Sunscreen

Sunscreen is an essential element of safe paddling. 

Sunscreen is an essential element of safe paddling. 

At first glance, any spare retail space on Sanibel and Captiva seems dedicated to sunscreen in its many forms. I often worry more about decision fatigue than sunburn, so here is some basic information for navigating this absolutely imperative part of your paddling experience. 

The two components of sunlight of the greatest concern are UVA, which contributes to wrinkling and aging, and UVB, which is the radiation linked to skin cancer. The way I remember the difference is “A” is for aging and “B” is for basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. You want a product that will protect you from both, so check the label for confirmation. 

Should you choose a chemical or mineral sunscreen? Both are effective and it’s really up to you. Mineral-based sunscreens – think white noses on lifeguards – are typically made from zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. They have come a long way since the early days and are not so opaque anymore. The goal of a mineral sunscreen is to prevent the sun’s rays from actually reaching the skin. While no sunscreen can block everything, these formulations are very effective. They are also preferable for use on sensitive skin. 

Chemical sunscreens come in a variety of molecular forms. The chemicals actively absorb the sunlight before it interacts with your skin. These tend to be more visually appealing when applied, but require 20 minutes to begin working, may cause skin irritation, and may need to be reapplied more often. 

Sunscreens are described in an alpha-numeric code using the letters SPF and a number. SPF stands for “sun protection factor”, and a sunscreen labeled SPF 30 means that the sunscreen should provide 30 times the protection of no sunscreen. This means you could stay in the sun 30 times longer than you would without sunscreen before burning. The American Association of Dermatology recommends a minimum SPF of 30.

Always remember your sunscreen to ensure that a painful sunburn doesn’t prevent you from paddling! 

Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit or follow us on Facebook to learn more.