Sun Protective Swim Wear For Complete Sun Protection

Cynthia Bailey, MD|September 14, 2010

I'm a very fair-skinned dermatologist who swims laps in an outdoor pool at 12 noon, once a week, 52 weeks a year.  This would be a skin-destroying dose of sun if I hadn't figured out how to completely sun protect my skin. My trick........it's the 'swim suit'.  I wear a long sleeve, rash-guard type swim shirt to cover my upper body and full length swim tights for my lower half.  I also cover my scalp and ears with a swim cap.  This leaves just the little bit of skin on my face, hands, neck and ankles reliant on a thick coating of sunscreen! You can see in the photo that the UV sensing beads of my UV Detecto Ring are brightly colored, indicating I'm exposed to UV rays.  This particular photo was taken at 5pm!  At 5pm, the rays are mostly UVA.  They will still wrinkle my skin, darken my age spots and put me at risk for melanoma-and I don't need any of it! The reason I don't recommend depending on sunscreen and a tee shirt for sun protection when swimming or snorkeling:

  • Sunscreen application of exposed skin when your wearing a normal bathing suit is almost never perfect (ie. covering 100% of the exposed skin in the requisite 'thick and sticky' coat is difficult).
  • Sunscreen reapplication every two hours and after swimming usually doesn't happen.
  • Sunscreen products themselves often don't provide complete protection.
  • Most clothing provides inadequate sun protection when it's wet, including a tee shirt.

My proven 'swimming suit' resources:

  • I buy my swim shirts from Billabong or Athleta.  My current favorite is the Billabong shirt pictured.
  • I buy my swim tights from Coolibar
  • My favorite water-worthy hats for 'social' swimming and floating on noodles (as in the top photo) are from Sunday Afternoons.  We sell them in the office but they are also available at REI and from online retailers.
  • If I'm not actively swimming I wear UV protective sun glasses.  When I'm swimming I use a snorkel and mask.
  • I wear Solbar Zinc Sunscreen on what little areas of skin remain uncovered and LipCotz to protect my lips

If I'm lounging around a pool or the ocean (ie. on vacation) where I'm wearing a 'normal' swim suit,  I can pull-on the swim shirt and swim tights over my normal bathing suit when I'm ready to swim laps or snorkel.  They're also thick enough to be worn alone, without a traditional swim suit underneath. My total body swim wear isn't cutting edge fashion, but neither are wrinkles and age spots-AND-they sure beat a sunburn! If you found this information helpful, you may also want to read: How To Apply Sunscreen & Have Healthy, Fabulous Skin Forever Skip The Tan And Eat Your Veggies For Beautiful Skin Color Treating Teenage Acne; Dermatologist's Complete Info To Clear Acne Fast

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