By Kent Whitaker

The world has changed over the course of a generation or less. Back in the day,  back in the 1980's for me, we loaded up our skin with oils and lotions that were almost akin to cooking oil. We would proudly bake our skin to a near burnt toast tan.

According to James H. Beckett, MD the time has come for everyone that enjoys time in the surf to take a little extra care when it comes to skin protection. Dr. Beckett, in a recent article on, says that his perspective comes from not only being a surfer but also from being a dad.

“My children also got me started as a sun safety volunteer,” Beckett said in the article. “They had joined a local junior lifeguard summer program. While watching them on the beach one day, I realized that they were receiving substantial sun exposure and that their instructors weren’t emphasizing sun protection. I approached the head lifeguard and was invited to join the program teaching sun safety.”

Since that time Beckett has been at the helm of spreading the word about skin protection to a growing community of outdoor lovers. His message goes out to over 2500 youth surfers and lifeguards every summer. It’s a lesson plan that’s actually very simple when Beckett describes his approach.

“To make my point, I often ask whether anyone would purposely allow their computer software to be damaged. The answer is invariably no. Then I ask why anyone would allow their software of life (that is, DNA) to be damaged by unprotected sun exposure?”

Dr. Beckett, also now known as the “Surfing Dermatologist” has built a level of trust between surfers and a doctor. He points out that the message could get lost if he was simply some strange doctor showing up to give a speech before returning to the comfort of the office and air conditioning. Since he’s out on the waves and the sand with the audience he’s trying to reach.

“As the ‘surfing dermatologist,’ I have credibility with the surfing and lifeguard communities and young people pay attention to my message,” said Beckett.

Here’s a few things Dr. Beckett suggests!

First – Start with Great Gear!

The following items offer invaluable sun protection for surfers as well as swimmers:

  • A neoprene (synthetic rubber) wetsuit in cold water, or UV-protective lycra garments in warm water
  • A nylon or neoprene surfing cap that covers the top of the scalp and ears
  • UV-protective, wraparound sunglasses

Dr. Beckett’s Sunscreen Tips For Surfers

  • I apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. The high SPF is important because the sun’s UV rays reflect off the water, adding to the intensity of exposure. Alcohol-based gel or spray formulas are a good bet, since they don’t run and irritate the eyes as often as cream- and lotion- based sunscreens do.
  •  Wetsuit wearers should apply sunscreen to the nose, cheeks, hands, in and around the ears, and back of the neck. If you’re not wearing a surfing cap, don’t forget the scalp. Use a gel, liquid or spray to protect the part lines, cowlicks, and areas where hair is thinning.
  • And don’t skimp on the sunscreen: If you’re not wearing a wetsuit, use a full ounce (two tablespoons) to cover all exposed areas of your body.

Dr. Beckett is a practicing dermatologist and past Medical Director with the Santa Cruz Division of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Santa Cruz, CA. Photo via

Category: Beach Health
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