By Captain Mike of Mobile Bay Adventures
My Preferred Sunscreen actually is a routine conversation over the years with clients on my vessels. Often, I am asked why I use a particular brand after I loan it out to someone that forgot to bring their own. It also comes up when a vacationer comes on board already sunburned from laying out at the pool or the beach the previous day. I was motivated to write this blog because I spent a few hours this morning cleaning rust looking stains off the gelcoat from an offshore charter yesterday that regular boat wash and a scrub brush wouldn’t remove! It took a lot of elbow grease!
I ask everyone to apply sunscreen before we leave the dock. I pay special attention in May and June because often times, it’s the 1st time out on a boat for clients and they have minimal base tan. This further increases their risk for sunburn. Many clients have no idea how dangerous clean, waxed white gelcoat can become if they have no protection. Seen and felt it myself too many times! White gelcoat dramatically increases exposure to dangerous UV rays. Even on cloudy days and while sitting under a Bimini top, UV rays reflect off the gelcoat and cause serious sunburn without protection. Mobile Bay Adventures wants to be remembered by our guests for having a great day on the water so we make every effort to prevent them from getting sunburned.
I’ve never met a teen or adult that wasn’t aware UV rays are dangerous so it’s easy to conclude sunburn occurs because they are using a product that does not perform as advertised or they are not using it as directed on the label or they are not using it at all. My position on sunscreen is simple – Preferred sunscreen is the one you use early, often and generously as per the directions on the label. They all provide some protection when applied and some is better than none and your skin will thank you!
What you need to know
There are over 1,300 products available with SPF. Labels include Face, Sport, Allergan Free, Recommended by Dermatologists (only takes one), Babies. Water Proof and Sweatproof. It reminds me of Excedrin for example. There is Excedrin for Headache, Excedrin for Migraine and Extra Strength Excedrin. If that’s not enough, there is also Excedrin for Tension Headache and Excedrin PM Headache. It’s confusing because when you read the label you discover they all have the exact same ingredients. It’s marketing, so Labels and fragrances are not a reliable method to choose your preferred sunscreen.
Safety should be a strong consideration when choosing a preferred sunscreen. We have to trust what the FDA says knowing they are behind other countries in the regulation of sunscreens. If safety is a concern, a great resource on the web to further educate yourself is EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) 2020 Guide to Sunscreens. EWG tested over 700 Beach and Sport sunscreens and found less than half offer adequate protection and many contain concerning chemical ingredients.
There are two kinds of sunscreens – chemical and physical. Chemical uses technology to absorb damaging UV rays and physical (minerals) block the rays. Both types offer 30+ SPF (Sun Protection Factor). SPF 30 negates 97% of the rays and is the minimal SPF protection recommended. Above 30 SPF provides minor differences up to 99% but the price tag goes up and more SPF hasn’t been clinically proven to be more effective.
Another consideration is water resistance. Water resistant is the official term (no such thing as waterproof) and products are rated at either 40 minutes or 80 minutes before they begin breaking down in the water. If you are swimming or prone to heavy sweat keep in mind you will want to reapply often and always reapply after you towel dry.
Make sure you are using a Broad Spectrum Sunscreen for your preferred sunscreen. Broad spectrum offers protection from both UVA light that causes premature aging of skin (wrinkling and age spots) and UVB rays that burn your skin. Too much exposure from either can be harmful.
Chemical sunscreens have grown significantly in the past decade. They tend to be cosmetic in nature with fragrances, dry faster and wash off easier. But you need to be aware there is controversy over the safety of certain chemicals in these sunscreens. How much of these chemicals make it into the bloodstream and what are the long-term effects when some of these chemicals can be detected weeks and months later after 1 application in both urine and blood tests.
They are often more problematic for people with sensitive skin and cause discomfort. They tend to stain clothes and the fiberglass and vinyl seating on boats. AVOID SUNSCREENS CONTAINING THE CHEMICAL AVOBENZONE as it has a chemical reaction to iron particles found in water which is the cause of the brown/orange rust looking stains. Avobenzone is a boat owners nightmare so make sure your preferred sunscreen does not contain this chemical. Aerosol sunscreens include this chemical and make the worst stain because the wind blows it and there are little specks of rust colored stain all over the deck of the boat.
Personally, I don’t want to “absorb” anything harmful to me, UV rays or chemicals. I prefer to block UV rays which is why we lean towards the mineral options for a preferred sunscreen at Mobile Bay Adventures. Sunscreens containing either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide or both are approved by the FDA and tend to be less irritating to the skin and non staining.
There are numerous zinc based brands available. Using the selection criteria of 1) Budget Friendly 2) Ingredients approved by FDA 3) Requires fewer applications and 4) Does not breakdown as fast when introduced to water, we prefer Blue Lizard Sensitive, Neutrogena Sheer Zinc or Dry Touch and Coppertone Pure & Simple. They are highly rated and provide effective protection for all ages and skin types. They do have their drawbacks because they tend to leave a whitish sheen on your skin from the zinc and they are more challenging to wash off. As your captain, I prefer to see the sheen because I know you have some protection.
I am a big fan of Blue Lizard and it is my preferred sunscreen. I don’t mind the blueish sheen as my vanity went out a long time ago. You won’t hurt my feelings calling me Papa Smurf either.
Proof is in the Test
Blue Lizard Sensitive won me over completely Memorial Day weekend last year when I took multiple families with small children tent camping at Dauphin Island for three days. We kept my two and a half year old grandson covered head to toe in Blue Lizard Sensitive. He had no rash or sunburn from wearing a wet swimsuit, boating, swimming and playing in the sand and came home with only a tan. The other families, parents and children using various other brands came back with sunburns and skin rash even after regularly applying sunscreen. Sun reflecting off the fiberglass of the boat, the Gulf waters and a white sandy beach for three consecutive days was harsh conditions and made for an effective test. Blue Lizard Sensitive passed with flying colors. The other brands didn’t! In full disclosure we were smart about it. We completely avoided sunburn through a combination of using an effective sunscreen and wearing proper attire. We wore SPF rated long-sleeve fishing shirts and rashguards when we weren’t in the water between noon and 3 p.m. Even when wearing proper attire, we liberally applied Blue Lizard Sensitive to our face, ears, neck, hands and feet.