We wear snorkeling rash guards every time we snorkel and share our favorite brand below. Think sun protective clothing. They were originally created so surfers would not get rashes from their boards. The name stuck, but good UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) swim shirts and leggings can virtually eliminate the need for sunscreen and will protect you better from the sun. They also protect you from sea lice (jellyfish plankton) stings, which can be an issue almost anywhere.
Most serious snorkelers wear some form of full length clothing to protect themselves and eliminate sunscreen. On a recent Indonesian group snorkeling trip every person was wearing tops and bottoms, which was great to see. Although our hooded Tuga Sunwear tops were coveted.
As you have likely heard, some chemicals in sunscreens have been found to be harmful to corals and fish, so it is a good idea to minimize the use of it in general. That is why we now recommend wearing a snorkeling shirt with a built-in hood and hand coverage with leggings. We prefer two pieces as opposed to a full body rash guard for ease of getting it on and off when you need to use the restroom. We find wearing snorkeling rash guards that cover most of us is very useful on long snorkels when sunscreen would not last or on repeat snorkels from boats when you don't have time to re-apply sunscreen between locations.
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The brand that we use and love is Tuga Sunwear (by Plangea INC). They have a completely unique line of snorkeling rash guards with snorkeler specific features that you won't find in any other product. It's a great company in California run by our friend John. We help test their products and they have implemented a number of our improvement suggestions into their snorkel line. Besides the unique features we will talk more about below, what sets them apart from less expensive rash guards is the high quality of their UPF 50+ tested fabrics in their snorkel line, which all come from Italy. All fabrics in the snorkel line are either, nylon made from recycled fish nets or polyester made from recycled bottles, mixed with spandex, so very eco-friendly. It is very stretchy and comfortable material.
We visited the Tuga Sunwear factory which was interesting. See that story, and more about them and our partnership here.
Tuga makes an awesome snorkel hoodie rash guard with hand coverage for men and women in multiple color options, including some with either Hawaiian or Caribbean fish identification images printed on the sleeves. We absolutely love ours. They provide great sun protection and save us the time and effort of putting sunscreen on our necks, ears and hands. It's very easy to tuck your mask skirt under the hood for excellent sun coverage.
Besides the unique hood, the top also has long arms with thumb hole cuffs, for hand sun protection. There are also button holes that can attach to buttons on matching leggings or shorts described down this page.
Tuga makes matching color leggings for men and women that have buttons that attach to your shirt, making sure it does not ride up and cause a sun burn on your back. The leggings also have foot stirrups to help keep them from riding up. Galen wore board shorts over his leggings for a little more modesty and it worked great.
These are made of the same great eco-friendly fabrics. Some of the snorkeling rash guards have button holes for attaching to leggings or the jammers below, and thumb hole cuffs, but some don't, so make sure you get what you want.
A full body rash guard is also called a dive skin. It is a one piece garment that zips up the front. While this is certainly a good option, we prefer two pieces for freedom of using the restroom. If they appeal to you more than the two piece option above, you can find them on Amazon, made by other manufacturers.
If the Tuga sun protective clothing is above your budget, there are options on Amazon that are more affordable. Just note the materials may not be as stretchy, comfortable, or durable. They will lack the snorkeling specific features of the Tuga garments, and the UPF stated is almost never tested, so some sun is likely to get through. But we used similar products for years and they are much better than slathering on sunscreen or getting burned.
A cotton t-shirt is not a good idea. First, a typical white cotton t-shirt only has an UPF rating of between about 6 to 8, when dry. And when wet that goes way down. We have seen family members get a good burn through a wet t-shirt.
There are a couple of other reasons not to wear cotton. First, it picks up water-weight, decreasing your buoyancy. Second, when wet it will get very baggy creating a lot of drag when trying to swim and will make you much more tired. And if you freedive, it is much easier to snag it on something underwater than a more form fitting snorkeling rash guard.
If you choose a snorkeling shirt without a hood or snorkeling shorts, you will need to sunscreen your exposed parts. Please read our page about choosing a reef safe one.