What is Surf Rash and what to do about it.

Posted by James Marshall on

A while back now, a bunch of friendly folk filled in a questionnaire about their experiences with surf rash. In short, the research told me that there is a significant problem that needs to be solved, but of course, the first step to finding a solution was to understand the underlying cause.

What the research said

  • On average, the respondents suffered from surf rash almost 40% of the time they surf.
  • The biggest problem is from surfing without a rash vest, followed closely by rashes from boardshorts and wetsuits.
  • The vast majority would like to see a surf rash cure than is effective and made with natural ingredients.

Causes of surf rash

I have struggled on and off with surfing rash for most of the many years I have been surfing:

  • Initially, I thought the marks on my neck were the result of too many consecutive mornings and evenings, even some school days, spent surfing in a wetsuit (sadly not the result of a teenaged love affair…).
  • Then I wondered if the searing pain on my thighs after surfing was from the materials in cheap pair of boardshorts I picked up from a market when I first landed in Indonesia.
  • Even recently, I assumed the rashes under my armpits and on my chest was wax irritating my skin, and giving me the worst full body hair removal job known to man.

Surf Rash

It turns out that whilst friction against wetsuits, seams on boardshorts and shirts, or even surfboard wax may upset some people’s skin, there is a more all encompassing, and ultimately inescapable answer. Surf rash occurs when the skin is softened and weakened by exposure to salt water, as well as minuscule, abrasive sea salts rubbing against the skin, creating an exfoliator effect. Over time, this combination breaks down the skin causing inflammation, pain and even superficial wounds. In short, this means that if you’re in the ocean and you’re skin is rubbing against something, you could be on the way to developing a rash.

What to do about Surf Rash

In the past, there were several strategies you could employ in a bid to avoid surf rash, each with differing levels of efficacy:

  • Use Vaseline - good at stopping a rash, but be very careful not to let it near your board or you will slip & slide. It is also mainly petroleum jelly and the EU has banned products where the petroluem is not adequately refined to remove the carcinogens, so tread carefully
  • Invest in a good quality rash vest - Pretty reliable, and if you're in the tropics it will protect you from the sun damage too, but this only helps the upper body.
  • Dont surf...clearly not a real option!

If the above options aren't for you, you do have another option now. SETT Surf Rash Cream is designed to to reduce the redness and sensitisation of a surf rash, keep you skin in great condition, and get you back in the water enjoying the waves ASAP! Click here to read more.

  • Natural, organic skincare
  • Reduce redness & sensitisation of surf rash
  • Child safe formula
  • Paraben free & allergen free
  • Developed to strict regulatory standards

Surf Rash Cream

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  • I would also love to hear from you about what you think about SETT, the website and what I am working on, so feel free to drop me a line on james@settsurf.com.

Speak soon,

James 'Mammoth' Marshall


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  • Hey Graham, thanks for your comment!

    SETT Surf Rash Cream is designed to help specifically for problems like that. It is designed first and foremost to help soothe your skin once it is inflamed and painful, to help it get back in great condition and not annoying you on your tropical holiday!

    Some customers use it as a surf rash prevention on their arm pits for example, as the candela wax may prevent chafing. However for the chest and ribs, I would recommend a rash vest or t-shirt, just in case the candelila wax rubs onto your board and makes it a bit slippery!

    Sadly, a the end of the day, if there is enough friction, you will always get a rash…What is important is how fast you can feel good and get back out there again, and SETT Surf Rash Cream is epic for that!

    Hope this helps,

    James 'Mammoth' Marshall on
  • Hi, how well does the anti rash cream work for chest/rib rash when surfing in the tropics ? Ie for longer surf sessions?

    Graham on

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