Prevention and Treatment of Surf Rash and Sunburn

If you’ve ever gone surfing before, you’ve probably experienced surf rash before. Along with this, you’ve most likely experienced sunburn.

These may seem like the unavoidable downsides of surfing for most, but there are many ways to prevent them! Read down below to learn more!


Especially for beginner surfers, surf rash is basically unavoidable.

While you’re out in the water, your skin becomes more soft and sensitive because of the water’s salt content. As a result, your skin is more susceptible to chafing and irritation.

Surf Rash is caused by the repeated friction between your skin and your surf gear.

Surf Rash looks like mild, inflamed abrasions on the skin. Most commonly caused by, the wax on your board wetsuits, board shorts, and even repeated friction from skin-to-skin contact while paddling.

The most common areas that surfers find surf rash are on their stomach, shoulders, chest, thighs, inner thighs, and armpits.

How to prevent it:

Surf rash sucks, but it IS avoidable! Here are some ways to prevent it!

1) Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly:

Petroleum jelly and other lubricants help aid in stopping the friction that occurs while surfing, especially in the armpit area while paddling. Many run into surf rash on their armpits and use Vaseline to prevent the abrasions that occur.

While Vaseline is used to guard the skin against abrasions as a lubricant, when used on body parts such as thighs, and the abdomen area, it can cause you to slide off of your board. If you choose to use Vaseline, use it in areas that don’t come into contact with your board. No one wants to slip off of their board!

Along with this, Vaseline and Petroleum Jelly are not eco-friendly, meaning they aren’t great to be putting in the water.

Vaseline is not ideal, but it is quite effective. There are alternatives this product, like Belly Jelly.

Areas to use this:

  • Armpits
  • Under surf shorts

2) Rash Guards & Wetsuits:

Rash guards add a layer between your skin, and board to protect yourself from rubbing against the board wax! Rash guards are quick and easy prevention to surf rash.

Rash guards only protect from the waist up, so many like to use wetsuits for more coverage over the legs and thighs. This provides lots of protection all over your body, and keeps you warm while surfing in colder temperatures!

Check out some of our new HOKALI wetsuits to wear during your next surf session!

In warmer parts of the world, wearing full-body wetsuits is not ideal.

Hot weather combined with a full wetsuit makes your surfing experience hot, and uncomfortable.

Spring suits and short arm wetsuits are ideal for those who like coverage, without having to wear a full wetsuit.

3) Spandex compression shorts:

Just like wetsuits, spandex compression showers provide a layer of protection underneath your board shorts to prevent chafing.

4) Make sure that you don’t get sand in your board wax:

Dropping your board on the sand, and allowing for sand to stick to the wax on your board. Sand on your board is bad news!

The sand creates an abrasive surface that causes even more irritation to your skin. It increases scratching, and you are more likely to get cuts and abrasions while surfing.

It’s like laying on sandpaper! That doesn’t sound fun. Make sure to re-wax your board every so often, and make sure that sand doesn’t get in your way!


For most, sunburns are not uncommon. Sunburns occur when the skin is overexposed to the UV rays that come from the sun.

For surfers, sunburn is commonly found on the back, back of legs, and face.

The UV Rays that reach the face are amplified when they bounce off of the surface of the water, creating a lot of sun damage to the face, and eyes.

No one wants to live through a recovering sunburn after a surf session.

Here are some ways to prevent it:

1) Rash guards:

Rash guards are an easy preventative to sunburn!

As talked about before, rash guards are a lifesaver. They protect your skin from both board rash and sunburn!

2) Sunscreen:

It’s common knowledge to wear sunscreen when going outside (yes. even if it’s overcast!). But are we wearing our sunscreen right?

Make sure to apply your sunscreen liberally!

Around 1 ounce of lotion sunscreen for every part of your body that is exposed to the sun is a good amount to stick with.

Apply your sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out!

Putting on sunscreen right before heading out into the water increases the probability of it instantly washing away in the water.

Not only this, but the wet sunscreen can rub off onto your surfboard, causing it to become slippery, and your wax becoming ineffective.

Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours at most!

For liquid sunscreen, reapplying every 2 hours at the most is ideal. When using spray sunscreen, you may need to reapply every 1 – 1 ½ hours because the sunscreen layer on your skin is thinner, and washes off quicker.

Here are some great sunscreens to use during your next surf session!

SurfDurt Surnscreen – SPF 30 ($18.99 – $24.99 USD)

Vertra Face Sticks – SPF 35-45 ($20 USD)

SunBum Sunscreens – SPF 15-70

Don’t only use sunscreen!

Only relying on sunscreen isn’t the best idea.

Sunscreen isn’t 100% effective, so taking further steps to prevent sunburn is crucial!

Not taking extra precautions to protect yourself may increase the risk of sunburn, and in the long run, skin cancer.

3) Avoiding Surfing During Peak Sunlight Hours:

From around 10 am till 4 pm, the sun shines the brightest. So surfing before 10 am, and after 4 pm is ideal to surf in if you don’t want the harshest UV rays shining.

4) SPF lip balm:

The skin on your face and lips is the most sensitive to sun damage and aging.

Overexposure to the sun can cause signs of aging, wrinkles, thinning lips, breaking down of collagen, and skin cancer.

Here are some SPF Lip Balms to help protect your lips:

VANICREAM™ Lip Protectant / Sunscreen ($5.20 USD)

SunBum SPF Sunscreen Lip Balm ($3.99 – $5.99 USD)

Aquaphor Lip Prottectant + Sunscreen (~$4.37 USD)

5) Hats and Sunglasses:

The sun’s UV rays reflect off of the surface of the water, amplifying its rays that can burn your eyes and face. Hats are great for shade, out in the water to protect your face and neck from getting burnt.

Sunglasses help protect your eyes from the sun’s rays that bounce off the water’s surface.

Sunburned eyes can lead to multiple long-term health concerns. Invest in UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes from the harmful rays!

To help the glasses and hats stay on, or so you don’t lose them, make sure that they can either float (there are some sunglass brands that make sunglasses specifically made to be used in the water) or have a strap around the back so that it stays secure on your head.


Sometimes, even with precautions taken, we still get sunburned or have to deal with surf rash. When this does happen, here are some ways to alleviate them.

1) Bacitracin Ointment:

These ointments (specifically on surf rash) help heal the wounds and help prevent infections in the open wounds. Make sure to clean the areas thoroughly before using!

2) Aloe Vera Gel:

Aloe provides antioxidants, nutrients, and hydration for the damaged skin. It balances and neutralizes the effects of sun damage, speeding up the healing process.

For fresh aloe, I like to place a piece in the freeze for about 15-30 minutes, then rub it on the burned areas to alleviate the burning and dryness. For aloe gel, I like to keep a bottle on hand in my refrigerator for whenever I get sunburned.

3) Vaseline & Lotions:

Hydration is extremely important when looking to heal burned or wounded skin. Vaseline and other lotions help hydrate and keep the hydration from leaving the skin.

Make sure to address your sunburn and surf rash right after surfing to help speed up the healing time.

Remember to take as many precautions as you can to prevent both sunburn and surf rash before heading out to your first HOKALI Surf Lesson!

Let us know what other tips and tricks you have for dealing with sunburn and surf rash in the comments!

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