Best Waterproof Sunscreen / Sunblock for Swimming?

ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
edited May 2014 in General Discussion
I live in Denver, which makes outside training in the winter a bit of a challenge. It also means my skin is pasty white and more susceptible to sun burn. When I race Tampa Bay in a month, it'll be the first outside training I'll have been able to do and I'm really worried about getting badly burned. I battled this at MIMS last year as well, and slathered myself with Desitin, since it has zinc in it. It worked fine- no major sunburn- but, it was disgusting. What other sun block options are out there that will stay on for 9+hours in the water?


  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited June 2019
    I used SolRx (8-hour waterproof) on the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim last year (UV index off the charts) and left with merely a moderate tan.

    - Buy on Amazon
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    A trick I got from forum member lecummins for the EC, was to apply sunscreen and let it dry before going to bed and then put on another coat after waking. Worked well for me, though obviously the Strait is not as hot but a much longer exposure.

  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member
    I'm a big fan of Prosport 44 - not sticky or smelly, but stays on for 8 hours +.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    edited June 2014
    Evmo told me about SolRx last year and I tried. It is really excellent. In my two longer swims last year, I put on 2 layers of that 1/2 hr apart and then put Desitin over it. Admittedly, I have no skin pigment of consequence, so I go with the better safe than sorry approach.
    BTW, last year when I spoke to the SolRx people they said they were going to introduce a new product with a 50 SPF and zinc oxide in it. I don't know if they did or not, though.
    The only other sunblock that is even close to the same league is Waterman's Scientific, but it is also considerably more expensive and has a much nastier feel on the skin.

    If you get the SolRx, get the quart bottle - more bang for the buck.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • jcmalickjcmalick Wilmington, DEMember
    edited March 2012
    I agree with Leonard...Evan also told me about SolRx (actually more so through freshwater swimmer...who am I kidding!) and I used it for all of my marathon swims last year including an eleven hour pioneer swim and didn't have a single if it only could prevent chafing and salt tongue, then we would surely be in business!
  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganSenior Member
    Banana Boat 100spf water proof works well. However, in our climate (Cayman Islands) it's still not enough for more than 4-5 hours. I'm eager to give all the above mentioned a try.

    A recent news post on ? said that FDA is likely going to restrict spf ratings to 50 and below in the near future, because people are misled into thinking that, e.g., 100spf is twice as strong as 50. Seems that's not true and the trick is to reapply. (When I was in Florida recently I was not able to find the 100spf Banana Boat and my local supplier no longer carries it either - have they already quit making it?) I haven't tried reapplying in the water yet, mostly because it sounds like it wouldn't work (?is a kayaker able to apply sunblock to my shoulders while floating in a kayak???). For long swims I have to wear a rashguard.
  • AquaRobAquaRob Humboldt Bay, CACharter Member
    I don't have a specific sunscreen recommendation, but I do have an anti sunburn tactic I picked up from @Gords' blog. He lives in Utah and starts going indoor tanning in spring to build up a base to keep from burning like crazy when the season finally gets going. Not something I would have thought of as a spoiled Californian, but a fairly genius maneuver for the inland crowd.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I'd like to recommend that you all consider mixing some mediterranean genes into the next generation of OW swimmers. (donations by appointment)

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member
    Sadly, my genes all came from the vikings, so I'm stuck with pale skin and freckles....and an industrial-sized bottle of sunscreen.

    But I do think it's something that the swimming community should perhaps be talking about more (I mean, the effects of sun, rather than David's offer of genetic material...). We tend to not discuss exposure to the sun as a swimming health risk because we see tanning as a 'healthy' look, but it potentially has serious long-term health consequences. I'd worry about using tanning beds in preparation, although this does depend on the quality of the light use, and the UV protection applied. Using the example of people using sunbeds to prepare to go on holiday, the World Health Organisation say that this only offers a protective effect equivalent to SPF 2-3, but with the same or greater UV exposure.

    But without the sun exposure, I would never have the pleasure of the startled double-take that people do in the summer when they notice that I've got a bold white stripe across the top of my head.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    Though this thread was started by @ssthomas looking for an alternative to the physical sunblock zinc oxide, there are increasing studies that many of the chemicals in the more comfortable to wear sunscreens may be harmful as well. Additionally, small swimming areas are subject to an assault of hundreds (thousands?) of persons slathering on said lotions and then essentially washing them off in the shallows. We've all swam through toxic slicks of "sun protection" I'm sure ingesting such delicacies as oxybenzone.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • WaterGirlWaterGirl Scottsdale, AZCharter Member
    You don't need Mediterranean genes. (Thanks for the offer, though.) Just spend a year swimming in Arizona. Outdoors, all year. My natural color is glow-in-the-dark white with freckles.

    You wouldn't know it to look at me. I spend more time applying sunscreen than I do fixing my hair. I slather it on, even if I'm swimming in the pouring rain. Because that darn AZ sun is going to find it's way onto me. And I'm still brown as a nut.

    I get lots of compliments on my tan, but it stresses me out. I can't bring myself to wear a rash guard, but other than that I'm doing everything I can to prevent it.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    As a member of the "burns-to-a-crisp" brigade I'm curious to see what the new generation of FINA approved full body open water suits are going to look like. Though given zippers and fasteners are still verboten I suspect these will be open backed and thus useless from a sun protection perspective (and also stupidly expensive).

    I've tried swimming with a rash guard and despite fitting me like a second skin on land, as soon as I got in the water in turned into a giant sea anchor. I would love to have access to a knee to shoulder suit with decent sun protection that was "legal" for open water swims, sadly I don't think that is happening in the near future. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • bklynmermaidbklynmermaid NYCMember
    edited March 2012
    Here's my tropical try not to burn my blonde-blue-eyed-butt off protocol: AM Shower, exfoliate, dry off in humid bathroom, apply half bottle of No-Ad 85 while naked, buff to fine sheen, walk into non-humid room, reapply, then walk around 30mins in non-humid room (AC on high if available) while I finish my morning prep. Hint:pack your goggles beforehand to avoid sunscreen. Change in humidity/exfoliation allows the sunscreen to really sink into the skin. I'll add a final coat to the areas that burn before I put on my suit and walk out the door. Yes, I look like I was dipped in a vat of crisco, but it helps.

    Here is a link to Environmental Working Group's 2011 Sunscreen review

    Looks like I should find a safer sunscreen....
  • I've had very good experience with Himaya's Sports Formula SPF 60. It's possible to apply when already wet and even apparently underwater (I haven't tried the underwater method though)
  • courtneypaulkcourtneypaulk Richmond, VirginiaMember
    While I agree it is disgusting - Desitin really does help with chaffing in addition to sunscreen But, Blue Lizard products are a great for sunscreen.
  • JanetJanet New York, NYMember
    Does anyone use any special products for their lips? The rest of me did ok last year, but I have trouble keeping any sort of sun protection on my lips through long swims.
  • KarahNazorKarahNazor ChattanoogaMember
    Bull Frog Gel is really the only thing that works for me so far. I just got cooked in my 5 hours open water swim in nicaragua last week using coppertone sport 30.
    -Karah Nazor Friberg
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    Thanks for the tips everyone! I'm very tempted to try all the techniques and products on various parts of my back and legs, lay out in the front lawn, and have my boyfriend spray me with the garden hose for 8 hours. Product testing AND cold water training!
  • caburkecaburke Charter Member
    edited March 2012
    Finally, a topic for which I feel qualified to offer advice. I live in Florida and train outdoors year round. While most of my swimming is before the sunrise, I do swim occasional afternoons so I have a slight tan, even in the winter. Since January, I’ve been doing longer and longer swims in the sun and my light German/Irish skin has a pretty good base tan.

    I’ve experimented with a few different brands, Bull Frog, Coppertone Sport and SolRx. My experience is that none of those will last for 8 plus hours. This past Saturday, I spent 6.5 hours in the Gulf of Mexico with two coats of SolRx and came out burned.

    In Key West last summer, I used a base coat of Coppertone Sport (blue bottle) and a coat of zinc oxide and had no problems with sun burn. You can order one pound jars of zinc oxide from the pharmacist for under $5. The Coppertone Sport is a great base and works well on your face because it doesn’t sting your eyes. The zinc stayed on my body and even my lower lip for the entire 12.5 mile swim.

    The trouble with zinc is that it is messy. A trick I learned is to wipe it off with paper towels and cooking oil before you shower. After that it comes right off. Just don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wipe your body down with the cooking oil while you’re out in the sun or you’ll burn in a matter of minutes.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    Here's my tropical try not to burn my blonde-blue-eyed-butt off protocol: AM Shower, exfoliate, dry off in humid bathroom, apply half bottle of No-Ad 85 while naked, buff to fine sheen, walk into non-humid room, reapply, then walk around 30mins in non-humid room (AC on high if available) while I finish my morning prep.

    This is a good approach. One other thing to add to this that works well: after the exfoliation part, apply Noxema all over and then wash it off really well. Noxema takes off anything that the soap didn't and it also removes any soap residue (like moisturizers, scent, etc) from the skin. Be sure to get it all off, however.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    caburke wrote:
    I live in Florida and train outdoors year round.

    Um, is there a 'jealous' button? @evmo, please do your computer geek magic and add a new button. Thank you. ;)

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    Resurrecting this thread to add a datapoint. Two coats of SolRx 44 were not quite enough to protect me from 9+ hours in the West Australian sun on the Rottnest swim (though not bad all things considered). May try adding in Zinc Oxide or Desatin next time around. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited February 2013
    @dc_in_sf -- any insight on what your fellow Rotto swimmers used to protect themselves?

    I think I may have been the originator of the SolRx recommendation... it worked for me, for 9 hours on a sunny day in Tampa Bay a couple years ago. Though I wasn't burned afterward, I definitely had a healthy tan and an impressive cap line (and I am someone who tans well).

    SolRx is a big step above your typical grocery store sunscreen, but I wouldn't be surprised if Desitin has better staying power, because of the zinc oxide component.

    On the other hand, SolRx comes off much easier afterward!

    Congrats on your swim!
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    edited February 2013
    evmo wrote:
    @dc_in_sf -- any insight on what your fellow Rotto swimmers used to protect themselves?

    I think I may have been the originator of the SolRx recommendation...
    To be fair to SolRx @evmo I survived in fairly decent shape (I may yet escape serious peeling), but definitely a little red on the shoulders and arms after the swim. I was also on the tail end of the soloists and am a pasty white boy genetically so really represent the worst possible case for sun protection. I'd have no hesitation in using it for a sub 8 hour swim, would simply look to add another element for anything longer in an environment as harsh as Australia.

    I didn't see a lot of folk who looked like they were seriously zinc oxided up, but must admit I was perhaps not paying that much attention to the other swimmers before the start. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • lscarlscar Member
    Has anyone ever tried UVNatural Sport? About 24 percent zinc oxide and I've used it for long runs/swims and it stays on, I've never been burned, and it is difficult to wash off (because it stays on). Made in Australia, I believe. I swear by the stuff but then again, I've never been to Key West or swam for long hours in the ocean. Has anyone else used it and if so, what did you think?
  • Reading through the comments back in 2012 & early 2013, do you think SolRx plus zinc oxide would be the go for a 12 hour swim?

    Our son, 15 years, is a red head & fair skinned (Irish heritage) & is going to attempt Molokai in October.

    Have had a recommendation re Hamilton Quad block which I believe is made here in Australia.

    Would welcome any comments as to recent experiences of sunscreen &/or zinc oxide use in long swims or whether anything new on the market.
  • Folks, when you mention Desitin, you are referring to the baby diaper cream? I use it on chaf after a swim but haven't used it as a sun block.
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    I use Desitin, straight up these days. I apply liberally. Stays on forever and blocks everything. Nothing beats it. Though, it is messy and HIGHLY attractive.
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    Yes, the baby diaper cream with zinc oxide. As @ssthomas states, it stays on forever. You need baby oil (mineral oil) or that orange goop LBJ keeps ranting about to get it off.
  • SullySully Member
    Eat lots of tomatoes. No joke, a diet supplemented in lyophilized tomato paste decreases sunburn and melanoma off the charts in mice models. Early work suggests the trend holds in humans.
  • I used coconut oil and the desitin came right off.
  • @Mixedupfellow I tried to get SolRX in Aus after reading this post for my first 10km and couldn't. I think it may have something to do with the claims not being compliant with Australian sunscreen standards (from memory I think they state it will stay on for x hours but in Aus you can't state more than y hours). Maybe you'll have better luck by finding it when you arrive in Hawaii but that may not give you much time to try it out first.

    In any case, my colouring is probably only slightly darker than you mention your boy's is and my first 10km was on the Gold Coast at Easter. I used Invisible Zinc 50+. I applied two layers about half an hour apart. Then mixed up lanolin and white zinc in a 50/50 mix (no need for vaseline in a hot climate, IMO) and put that on my likely-to-chafe bits. It wasn't pretty, and 'Invisible' Zinc isn't very invisible, but I came out of this 3.5 hrs later with a slight cap line but no real sunburn at all, and a bit of chafing on the back of my neck where my cap rubbed my hair into my skin.

    But then given that he's swimming four times as far, I wonder if it might be worth just lathering on the good old 1980s Bronze Zinc!

    Best of luck to him. Molokai is a big swim at any age, not least for a 15yo.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    I got my skin from my Irish grandmother and it wouldn't tan even under threats of reprisal.

    I put on a very healthy layer of SolRx, let it dry and then put on Desitin 40% zinc oxide. It looks absolutely idiotic, but I've never had a burn, even up to 11 hours under direct sun.

    Just so @gregoc can't accuse me of ranting about Goop, Dawn dish liquid takes it off as does the cheap shave gel from Dollar Tree. (Of course, so does Goop. HA!)


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    Bullfrog every time for me.
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    Niek wrote:
    Sully what colour tomatoes and how much would give the best results and won't let us look like a tomato?


    That's So Wrong!!!

    I'm a fan of a shade called "Red Blistered Ears". It's my preferred color if I neglect to use sunblock.
  • SullySully Member
    Niek wrote:
    Sully what colour tomatoes and how much would give the best results and won't let us look like a tomato?

    I'll ask my colleague and get back to you. Oddly enough it works better with processed tomatoes than fresh.
  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member
    edited June 2014
    I've ordered the SolRX and colored (fun!) zinc oxide from Amazon and they shipped fairily quickly. I used SolRX a few weeks ago for 3 hours and only burned behind my ears where I forgot to slap some on (like Chris/swimmer25k.) It worked where I didn't even tan.

    Good idea about the coconut oil. At least you'd smell good getting the zinc off. A friend told me just to wait until I hit Key West and hit the dollar store for oil and a scrubbie. Can you imagine just buying those two things and having to explain to a normal person? Funny.
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    Thanks for the recommendation of SolRX. I got the dry zinc for my face and I'm happy to report that it works well and since it's not greasy, it doesn't cause my goggles to leak. I'm trying to minimize the cap/goggles tan, but it's really too late for that already. X(

    I'm looking forward to trying the Waterblock 50 to prevent frying my back on some long swims in warmer climates this summer.

    I also got the lip balm, which has a nice flavor but doesn't seem to stay on any longer than my current favorite, Chicken Poop.

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • motivate99motivate99 Member
    edited June 2014
    I thought I had written about Headhunter products, but did not see my comments above, so here's my 2 cents worth...

    Have used Headhunter 30+spf for 4-5 years now and never burned with it on...swam Lake Apache (SCAR) this past May - 11 hours, Arizona sun (and some Arizona moonlight) with a couple of coats - never burned. Same story for Cape Cod last summer, and manyb other 4-14 hour swims.

    It's thick, but easy to apply, and comes off a lot easier than Desitin or similar products. They also make War Paint for your face etc...

    Here's their web site - if you ask, they may discount the products and they run frequent specials - sign up for their email list...great company, great peeps.

    I checked Amazon for reviews - similar experience to what I've had...highly recommend it!

    - Link to Amazon
  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member
    This may be an odd question, but one I hadn't thought of before. Has anyone burned the bottoms of your feet during a long swim? Or have you put sunscreen on them?
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    Resurrecting this thread since SolRx seems to be available only in some fancy new formulation that is no longer making 8 hour claims. Doing Rottnest again next weekend and am hoping to avoid shedding another few layers of skin from my back this time.

    So a couple of questions:

    * Anyone used the new SolRx and have any comments?
    * What are folks current favourites for a ~ 8 hour swim

    I may still have some old school SolRx left (though close to expiry if not expired) so may just use that and dump some zinc oxide on my shoulders since that is where I have burned the most in the past, but other alternatives would be good to know. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    The SolRx I bought/used last summer worked well (Zinc 44 and Waterblock 50) and I didn't get burned. It looks the same as what's on their website now. Although I wasn't swimming for 8 hours at any point, there were days when I swam several times (6-10K) and was in/out of the water several times throughout the day, in the mountains and up to 100 degree sunny conditions.

    I usually coated myself with the 50 in the morning before getting dressed, then added the zinc 44 on my face a bit later. Before going in for warm up, I got an additional coat of spray-on (one of those "waterproof" drugstore brands) applied to my back and shoulders, giving that time to dry. That seemed to do the trick. Adding the zinc oxide on your problem areas sounds like a great idea.

    Although I train at an outdoor pool beginning in May, I'm lily white and can manage to burn myself almost any time of the season, even with my base *tan*.

    One thing I realized (more of an issue for ladies) is to be extra careful about applying the base coat if you wear a different cut of suit for racing than for training. That white spot in the middle of your back will burn to a crisp, then be miserable for putting a suit on over it the next day. If you downsize for racing, (or guys that go from training jammers to racing briefs) don't burn your butt cheeks! :\">

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • Headhunter Suncare - their sunblock works great - have used it for 12 + hour swims without burning - and they have a 2 for 1 on their 50 SPF formula through tomorrow!
  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member
    I used SolRX last year for Key West and it worked very well for all the roughly 8 hours I spent in and out of the water. The best part is that it wasn't the nasty mess that zinc makes and trying to get it off afterwards..
  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    May I put the case for Riemann P20, factor 50, please? So far, it's done me 14+ hour and 13+ hour swims, the second of which was in the sea in blazing sunshine, and not a whisper of a burn or redness anywhere. Applied it generously all over, 2 hours before the swim, allowed it to dry and applied more just before the swim. It stains clothes, but I you wouldn't want to wear good clothes just before a swim, anyway.
  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    ....I have no idea how effective it would be in warmer climes, though.
  • I'm with KatieBun on Riemann P20 - started using this a couple of years' ago and haven't found anything better! It's clear, waterproof, applies easily and doesn't leave a horrible greasy residue that other sun tan lotions are guilty of. It's stood up to 13 hour training weekends at Dover and Bournemouth (here in good ol' Blighty), so would definitely recommend 11/10!
  • HollyTHollyT Member

    Glad I found this thread. I am having a problem with getting burned regularly right now on training swims. It seems if I am in water for more than 2 hours, I get fried even with screens. I'm wondering about training in swim tights and a rash guard. Any suggestions? I know my local pool would not agree to me using product like Desitin or Zinc all over and it's really a lot of put on for a 2.5 hr swim.

  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember

    @HollyT, have you tried using SolRx at all?

    I am not normally someone who tans at all. I go from Wonder-bread white to lobster red in a matter of minutes in any sort of sunshine. However, I used SolRx last week during the SCAR swim challenge, and came out with virtually no burn (aside from a bit on my face during the 7 hour day). A layer of SolRx easily protected me from the harsh Arizona sun for 3+ hours swims 4 days in a row. I would say it is definitely worth giving it a try before you swear off sunscreens and start using rash guards.

  • HollyTHollyT Member

    I suppose you are right Cole! I swam in a rash guard today, and it was miserable, but it was super loose, so it could have just been the particular guard, last week the one I used chaffed my neck. Ordering in a moment.

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