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Sunscreens for Boating and Beaches along Mobile Bay

By Captain Mike of Mobile Bay Adventures

I was prompted to write this blog because sunscreen has been at the top of my mind the past week. I just finished spending two hours cleaning rust stains off my boat from a tuna trip because my son’s best friend used Banana Boat Sport sunscreen which heavily stained my boat. A few days earlier my son informed me that my 2 year old grandson opened a package containing 3 bottles of Sunscreen and poured them all out on their couch.

Sunscreen has been a subject of conversation on my vessels throughout the years. Often I am asked my opinion after I loan my bottle out because someone forgot to bring theirs. It also gets discussed when a cancellation occurs or member of a group has to bail due to a serious sunburn after laying out at the beach the previous day.

Running family charters, I try to make sure everyone applies sunscreen before we leave the dock. I pay special attention in May and June because it is the 1st time out in the sun for many of our clients vacationing in the area. They have minimal tan base which makes them very susceptible to sunburn.

When a client starts showing signs of sunburn on our vessel, I find it common the person had no idea white gelcoat reflects sunlight and dramatically increases their exposure to dangerous UV rays. It happens on cloudy days when they learn UV rays penetrate cloud cover and it happens when sitting in shade under the T-top or Bimini without adequate protection.

At Mobile Bay Adventures. we want to be remembered for a great experience on the water. We want to avoid seeing anyone suffer from sunburn because not only is it painful, nobody wants to be stuck inside on their vacation from a bad case of sunburn. We’ve all seen it!

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. My opinions are based on many years in the sun and frequent visits and conversations with my dermatologist. I’ve researched sunscreens, personally tested different brands and easily observed their effectiveness on my clients.

I’ve never met a teen or adult that wasn’t aware UV rays are dangerous. I conclude people get sunburned because they are using a product that does not perform as advertised or they are not using it as directed on the label. Usually because not enough or often enough was the cause. Sometimes, sunburn occurs by their choice because of Vanity. They “rush” to get that suntan and feel they only have a few days of vacation to get it. Like myself, many of them will pay the price later on in life with costs of dermatologist and skin care products. Vanity over safety can be a challenge.

My position regarding sunscreen is simple – The very best brand for you is the one you use early, often, generously and per the instructions on the label. All of them provide some protection when applied properly and your skin will thank you!

What you need to know

Choosing the right brand can be confusing as there are over 1,300 products available with SPF. Manufacturers market product for Face, Sport, Allergan Free, Recommended by Dermatologists (only takes one), Babies. Water Proof and Sweatproof. It reminds me of over the counter meds. Take 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. Read the labels ask yourself which is better. It is confusing because they all have the exact same ingredients. It’s marketing!

For me, safety is strong consideration in choosing which sunscreen we use. I can only go by what the FDA says knowing they are far behind other countries in the regulation of sunscreens. The FDA was to announce new regulations in 2019 but elected to delay it to 2020. Change is forthcoming! The FDA will begin further regulating with their proposed new UVA testing. 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 do not contain concerning chemical ingredients. You will find it interesting.

There are two kinds of sunscreens to choose from – chemical and physical. Chemical uses technology to absorb damaging UV rays and physical (minerals) blocks 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. Always reapply when you towel dry.

Make sure you are using a Broad Spectrum 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. Be aware there is controversy over the safety of certain chemicals in sunscreen. How much of these chemicals make it into the bloodstream and what are the long-term effects. Some of these chemicals can be detected weeks and months later after 1 application in both urine and blood tests.

Chemical sunscreens tend to be a problem for people with sensitive skin. They burn your eyes and face and they can clog pores. They can 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 and cause brown/orange rust stains. Avobenzone is a boat owners nightmare!

Personally, even though some of the chemicals used in sunscreen have been around a very long time, I’m not comfortable with their long-term use. I don’t want to “absorb” anything harmful to me, UV rays or chemicals. I prefer to block them which is why we lean towards the mineral sunscreens! 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.

With that said, there are numerous zinc based brands available. We recommend Blue Lizard Sensitive, Neutrogena Sheer Zinc or Dry Touch and Coppertone Pure & Simple. They are highly rated, provide effective protection for all ages and skin types and budget friendly compared to similar products. They do have their drawbacks because they tend to be visible leaving a whitish sheen on your skin from the zinc. They are also more challenging to wash off in the shower in comparison to chemical sunscreens. As your captain, I prefer to see the sheen because I know you are protected.

I am a big fan of Blue Lizard. For all you parents or grand parents out there it won me over completely Memorial Day weekend. I took my family and another family with small children tent camping by boat on white sandy beaches at Dauphin Island for three days. We kept my two and a half year old grandson (yep the one that poured 3 bottles of Blue Lizard sunscreen on the couch) covered head to toe in Blue Lizard Sensitive. He had no rash from wearing a wet swimsuit boating, swimming and playing in the sand for 3 days. He came home with a tan and absolutely no sunburn. The other family using various other brands came back with sunburns and rashes and they regularly applied their sunscreens as well. Sun reflection off the fiberglass of the boat, water and a white sandy beach for three consecutive days is the harshest conditions possible. Blue Lizard Sensitive passed this test with flying colors!

The very best way to avoid sunburn when boating is effective sunscreen with proper attire. Be smart about it! I suggest including an SPF rated long-sleeve fishing shirt or rashguard, a hat, sunglasses, light weight quick drying pants and boat shoes that cover the top of your feet. Wear attire during the harshest UV sunrays (noon to 3:00 p.m.) and if you are about the tan, work on it with liberally applied sunscreen the rest of the time. Even wearing proper attire, you will need sunscreen for your face, ears and hands.