Neoprene: The Essential Material for Scuba Diving Wetsuits and Drysuits


Neoprene, a synthetic rubber, has been a crucial material in the world of scuba diving since its inception in the 1950s. Known for its excellent chemical stability, flexibility, and insulation properties, neoprene has become the go-to material for manufacturing wetsuits and some drysuits. This entry explores the properties of neoprene, its history, applications in scuba diving, and environmental considerations.

History and Development of Neoprene

Neoprene, also known as polychloroprene, was first developed in 1930 by a team of chemists at DuPont, led by Dr. Wallace H. Carothers. They sought to create a synthetic rubber that could replace natural rubber, which was becoming increasingly scarce due to global demand and limited resources. Neoprene was initially used in a variety of industrial applications, such as gaskets and hoses, due to its resistance to oils, solvents, and heat.

In the 1950s, neoprene found its way into the world of scuba diving when physicist and diving pioneer, Hugh Bradner, developed the first neoprene wetsuit. Bradner’s innovation revolutionized the sport by providing divers with greater thermal protection and allowing them to explore colder waters for extended periods.

Properties of Neoprene

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that exhibits several key properties that make it ideal for use in scuba diving suits:

  1. Flexibility: Neoprene is highly flexible, allowing it to conform to the wearer’s body shape while maintaining freedom of movement. This flexibility is maintained even at low temperatures, making it suitable for cold water diving.
  2. Insulation: Neoprene’s closed-cell foam structure is filled with nitrogen gas bubbles, which provide excellent insulation. This is crucial for scuba diving, as it helps maintain the diver’s body temperature and minimize heat loss in cold water.
  3. Durability: Neoprene is resistant to abrasion, cuts, and punctures, making it a long-lasting material. Additionally, it is resistant to degradation by UV radiation, ozone, and many chemicals.
  4. Compression resistance: Neoprene maintains its insulating properties under pressure, which is essential for deep diving.
  5. Buoyancy: The gas-filled cells in neoprene provide a degree of buoyancy, which can be helpful for divers, particularly when swimming near the surface.

Applications in Scuba Diving

Neoprene is primarily used in the construction of wetsuits and some drysuits. These suits are designed to provide thermal insulation and protection for divers in various underwater environments.

  1. Wetsuits: Wetsuits made from neoprene are designed to allow a thin layer of water between the suit and the wearer’s skin. The body heats this water, providing insulation. Wetsuits are available in different thicknesses, typically ranging from 2mm to 7mm, with thicker suits offering greater insulation for colder water.
  2. Drysuits: Some drysuits are also made from neoprene, although other materials, such as trilaminate and vulcanized rubber, are also used. Neoprene drysuits offer better insulation than other materials, but may be less durable and bulkier.
  3. Accessories: Neoprene is used in various scuba diving accessories, including gloves, boots, and hoods. These items provide additional insulation and protection for the hands, feet, and head, which can be particularly susceptible to heat loss in cold water.

Environmental Considerations

While neoprene is a vital material for scuba diving, its production and disposal do have environmental impacts. The manufacturing process involves the use of non-renewable resources, such as petroleum, and releases greenhouse gases. Additionally, neoprene is not biodegradable and can take several decades to break down in landfills. As a result, the scuba diving industry has begun to explore more sustainable alternatives to neoprene.

  1. Eco-friendly neoprene: Some manufacturers have developed eco-friendly neoprene, made from natural or recycled materials. For example, limestone-based neoprene uses calcium carbonate extracted from limestone as a primary raw material, reducing the reliance on petroleum. Other companies are using recycled materials, such as discarded tires or plastic bottles, to create neoprene alternatives.
  2. Plant-based alternatives: Another approach involves the development of plant-based materials to replace neoprene. For example, Yulex is a bio-based material derived from the guayule plant, which exhibits similar properties to neoprene but has a significantly lower environmental impact. Yulex is currently being used in some wetsuits and accessories.
  3. Recycling and upcycling programs: Some companies have introduced recycling or upcycling programs for used wetsuits and neoprene accessories. These initiatives aim to reduce waste by repurposing or recycling neoprene into new products, such as yoga mats, bags, and even shoes.
  4. Responsible disposal: As consumers, divers can help reduce the environmental impact of neoprene by disposing of their used wetsuits and accessories responsibly. Donating old gear to local dive shops, schools, or non-profit organizations can extend the life of the equipment and prevent it from ending up in landfills.


Neoprene has been an integral material in scuba diving for over six decades, providing divers with the thermal protection and flexibility needed to explore the underwater world. Its use in wetsuits, drysuits, and accessories has enabled the sport to grow and flourish. However, as the environmental impacts of neoprene become increasingly apparent, the scuba diving industry is working to develop more sustainable alternatives. By adopting eco-friendly materials and responsible disposal practices, divers and manufacturers can help protect the very oceans they love to explore.