Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands Reviewed – [May 2018]

The NOAA (National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science) clearly states that everyday sunscreens are harmful to coral reefsWe went through tens of different eco friendly sunscreen brands to figure out which ones are coral reef friendly. Our top choices are Raw Elements Eco Form Sunscreen and Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream.

Top Choices: Reef Safe Sunscreens

Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Very Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Non GMO, Cruelty...
312 Reviews
Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Very Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Non GMO, Cruelty...

Reef Safe and Hypoallergenic.
All natural with balanced Physical UV protection through unique Organic Eco-Shield Performance Tech.

Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube
610 Reviews
Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube

Biodegradable and safe for coral reefs and other ecosystems.

100% Certified Natural and 94% Certified Organic. Unscented with antioxidant-rich Sunflower Oil base.

What to look for in Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Here are 3 crucial things to look for (or to avoid) while choosing a reef safe sunscreen together with our top pick based on user reviews and affordability:

  • Most sunscreen is comprised of benzophenone-2 (BP2) which is the biggest factor in hurting coral and reefs. Make sure your choice does not contain BP2. BP2 is not removed from most municipal water treatment sources so if certain treatment centers expel their waste into the ocean this can harm reefs threatening our entire eco system.
  • Along with BP2 the main components of sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which will NOT biodegrade in the ocean and will harm surrounding areas. A few other ingredients to watch for in sunscreen include oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor.
  • Make sure the label reads “reef safe, organic, biodegradable” and that it does not contain any of those other products. To note there is a shelf life of sunscreen as well of about 1-3 years. This never crossed my mind because our family grew up near and on the water and still do so we go through sunscreen weekly but now I know how and where to get the proper stuff.

Which suncreens are coral reef safe?

Our Top Picks for Reef, Biodegradable, Coral, and Ocean Friendly Sunscreens:

Baby Sunscreen Cream by Badger - SPF 30-2.9 Ounce Tube

Eliminated Reef Damaging Ingredient:
Oxybenzone and Nano particulates of Titanium Oxide
Active Ingredient:
Non-nano and uncoated Zinc oxide

The first Badger skin product was born out of necessity in treating the Company Creator’s cracked hands. Over the years, the family-owned Badger Company has grown to develop skin care products, including sunscreen, that only uses the finest organic plant extracts.

Working hard to formulate a coral reef safe sunscreen, Badger products not just only protects you against UV radiation, but also heals, soothes and treats your skin. Inspired by their Company Philosophy and Principle in making their products not for a specific target consumer, but rather, they make a product as if it is a gift to someone they love. This is the reason why, at the very beginning, they never used synthetic chemicals, artificial fragrances, parabens, oxybenzone and GMO’s where all their products are deemed safe to use by you, their loved ones and the environment we are exposed to.

Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 oz Tube.

Popular sunscreens use multiple substances that often exceeds at least ten ingredients. However, this is not the case for Badger.

Naturally Unscented Sunscreen. Aside from being organic, it only uses 5 ingredients. Yes, 5 organic substances composing of Sunflower seed oil, bees wax, seabuckthorn fruit extract and non-nano uncoated zinc oxide. With these ingredients, the Badger Naturally Unscented Sunscreen is considered one the best biodegradable sunscreen out in the market.

This simple sunscreen formula that comes in the form of a lotion is perfect choice for those who have sensitive skins and guarantees a water resistant capability and protection against UV-A and UV-B rays of up to 40 minutes.

Most of the consumers who have already used the Badger Naturally Unscented Sunscreen said they have no problem applying this rich and thick lotion even if they sweat excessively or suffering from a skin disorder called hyperhidrosis. They even claimed that, even after applying the sunscreen and their sweat continues to pour out as a result of direct sun exposure, it still sticks to their skin making it sweat resistant.

This is also claimed by beach-goers telling us that the lotion stays in place even they have finish snorkeling, swimming or diving. The only downside of this sunscreen is its rich and thick lotion properties, that when applied to the skin, is comparable to a toothpaste.

Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube

Having the same 5 simple ingredients with the addition of Jojoba seed oil and an increase zinc oxide content of 22.5%, the Badger Sport Sunscreen is designed for the highly active person where its water and sweat resistant properties guarantees an 80-minute protection against UV radiation.

Most of its users are into triathlon involving multiple sports like running, swimming and biking. They said that this SPF 35 sunscreen gives them the protection they need and over the years of using it, they have learned a technique on how to effectively use it. The trick here is the application of 2 separate coats which is pretty similar in painting the walls of your house. During the first coating, pour a generous amount of sunscreen into the palm of your hands. Warm it first by mixing in your palms before you apply it to your skin. Initially you will observe that it will leave a thick white film on the skin, but it will dissipate and become invisible after a few minutes. After this, do the same procedure in applying a second coat. Leaving it to settle for a couple of minutes guarantees full protection under the sun where athletes are happy at the end of the competition without experiencing the slightest effects of sunburn.

With only 5 ingredients that you can count on and no octinoxate and oxybenzone or chemical active ingredients, water and sweat resistant for a day of fun in the sun without the worry and great for kids and adults so you can leave the little ones having fun on their own.

100% certified Natural and 94% certified organic, the Badger is biodegradable and perfectly safe for coral reefs and different marine ecosystems. The ingredients won't leave you with a rash or itch and has the main components of calamine lotions which is in diaper rash protectors so you know it is good for you if it is good for your child it is good for you!

Badger Balm Kids Face Stick - 35 - Tangerine and Vanilla - 0.65 oz

Added with more organic ingredients like olive fruit oil, beeswax, cocoa seed butter, shea butter, orange peel oil, tangerine peel oil, tocopherol from sunflower and vanilla fruit extracts, the Badger Kids Sport Sunscreen is the perfect protection we can give to our young ones’ sensitive skin. With a higher Sun Protection Factor of 35, your kids are protected against UV-A and UV-B rays that can last up to 80 minutes.

Kids love the yummy creamsicle fragrance of this sunscreen courtesy from its natural tangerine and vanilla flavor. Packaged in a stick applicator, parents (especially moms) find this sunscreen easy to apply even when their kids are already excited and highly active. Mommies said that the applicator has aided them in applying the sunscreen in the most delicate parts of their kids body like the cheeks, eyebrows, ears, nose, and lips.

Eliminated Reef Damaging Ingredient: Oxybenzone, Nano particulates of Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide
Active Ingredient: Non-nano particle of zinc oxide

It is expected that sunscreens are formulated by pharmacologists, dermatologists or any professional that has a medical background. But this is not the case for Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen where its concept was made by a lifeguard and backed up by a core team dedicated to make a positive impact in the environment. Using only certified natural and organic ingredients and a non-nano particulate of zinc oxide as its active ingredient, Raw Elements have developed several sunscreen products that holds several certifications like Non-GMO Project Approved, Leaping Bunny Certified, Natural Products Association Certified and EWG # 1 Rated which means that the product is healthy and safe to use.

Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Very Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Non GMO, Cruelty...

Made from sunflower oil, green tea, black tea, mango butter, coffee bean, hemp seed oil, cocoa butter, rosemary oil and beeswax, the Raw Elements Eco Formula 30 is the perfect sunscreen for the conscious consumer. It provides a full-body broad spectrum protection against UV-A and UV-B rays.

The formula behind the Raw Elements Eco Formula 30 creates a water-resistant lotion that is designed for high performance activities and long exposure under the sun or in the water that guarantees an 80-minute total protection against UV radiation.

The all natural ingredients of Raw Elements Eco Formula 30 is also perfect for the kids where some have claimed that no skin redness or sunburn was experienced by their children even playing for hours under the direct heat of the beach sun. The only downside of this product is it has a thick solution and creates a white film when applied. Other than that, heating of the sunscreen before application through constant rubbing of the hands will do the trick.

Raw Elements Face Stick Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Very Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Non GMO,...

Before we proceed, we would like to clarify that this is not a deodorant and that it only looks similar to the deo stick we all know. The Raw Elements Eco Stick 30 is the on-the-go version of the Raw Elements Eco Formula 30 and comes in an easy applicator rather than a lotion form.

Just like any deo stick applicator, revolving the bottom lever of the The Raw Elements Eco Stick 30 squeezes out a small amount of the sunscreen where you can easily rub it to your skin. You have two options in applying the sunscreen: you can either use the applicator to spread out the sunscreen which creates a heavy white film or place a small amount of sunscreen and rub it thoroughly in your skin using your hands. Either ways, it gives a guaranteed 80-minute continuous protection against UV radiation. One user who works on the boat claims that his working environment causes him to constantly sweat and that using the stick applicator aided him in applying sunscreen without transferring the dirt from his hand to his skin.

Other Reef Friendly products from
Raw Elements

With the core aim to protect and save the environment, Raw elements has also developed other skin care products that we use before or after we expose ourselves under the sun.

The Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer is both a sunscreen and a moisturizer made by the same all natural ingredients in the Raw Elements’ line of skin care products. This product is claimed to be a best-seller for regular beach-goers where it provides total protection against UV radiation while constantly moisturizing your face. The only downside of this sunscreen and moisturizer is that it gives a dark skin tone when applied and that the non-tinted version will cause your close friends to laugh as you will be looking like a ghost. But never mind the embarrassment as you know that you are fully protected against UV radiation, while they are not. On the other hand, the Raw Elements Herbal Rescue Lip Balm is the perfect after-sun care product that invigorates your lips without suffering the pain caused by lip cracks.

So Raw Elements Eco Form is our number 1 pick for Eco-friendly sunscreen. It is a water-resistant sunscreen but one of the safest on the market out there. Raw Elements Eco Form provides up to 80 minutes of protection and hypoallergenic, reef safe quality sunscreen.

This product is a little thicker but within 10 minutes it will absorb into your skin with a healthy glow and a little white left over so you know you will not burn! You can expect minimal white film like appearance compared to others with same type of reef safe ingredients. Basically you need to rub in the sunscreen properly and it will behave like ordinary sunscreen. And remember you may want to leave a very slight white film for best protection from the sun.

Worth noting - just as it says on the side of the tube, Raw Elements Eco Form is non-nano and does not contain paraben. It does not cause staining on your clothes and as expected it is swear and water resistant. There is some hardly noticeable perfume (unlike many sexy tropical sunscreens!). Another big plus for Raw Element is - it is Leaping Bunny certified - meaning it is never tested on animals.

I am a fairer skinned individual and I love the sun. I put on a couple coats throughout a 10 hour day in the sun and no burn and even a little tan happened.

Does Raw Elements Eco Form contain any GMO's?
No, it does not contain GMO's, actually it was the very first sunscreen to get approval from the Non-GMO project.

Does Raw Elements leave a white film that makes me look like a ghost?
Most sunscreens will do this unless you rub them in properly, take a couple of minutes to make sure you rub it in thoroughly and you will be fine.

Will it stain my clothes and will it come off when I sweat?
I have slathered on before heading out every day and I have never had any problems with it staining my clothes. And no, this sunscreen is sweat resistant. The cream is a bit thicker so you won’t have to reapply it after every activity.

Can I use this under my make-up?
Absolutely! This sunscreen is pretty thick so you’re going to want to apply it and make sure that you rub it in really well beforehand. It acts like a moisturizer and makes your skin really soft, just wait a few minutes for it to absorb fully before you apply your makeup.

My family and I are very fair and we usually use SPF 50, will this work for us?
With this type of sunscreen the thicker you spread it on the better it works. It is white, so you it can make you look ghostly until it absorbs. You can experiment with how thick you spread it on. Remember that this organic and all natural it is a lot better than using one of those carcinogenic sun blocks to protect you and your family.

Can I thin this out by adding moisturizer?
It can be heavy and you need to spend a few minutes really rubbing it into your skin, and you don’t need lots it does go a long way. I have also thinned it out by adding a bit of my moisturizer to it with no problems at all.

I am going on honeymoon, we will be spending a lot of time on the beach, will one bottle be enough?
You’re going to need more than one bottle, better safe than sorry and the bottles are pretty small. If you’re going in the water either swimming or snorkeling then this is the best time to use it, it won’t harm the plants and animals in the water…especially coral. It goes on pretty thick and you may have a slightly white color but it will protect you against burns and sun damage especially when you’re in and out of the water.

I have allergies, does this product contain any coconut?
All of the ingredients are listed on the packaging and it contains the following: zinc oxide, organic green tea, organic black tea, organic hemp seed oil, organic beeswax, organic coffee bean, organic sunflower oil, natural mango butter, natural rosemary leaf extract, and organic cocoa butter.

There seems to be no coconut products at all, but you might want to do a skin test first to make sure that you won’t have a reaction before you put it all over you.

Does the face stick and bottle version both have zinc oxide?
Yes, the ingredients are exactly the same and the zinc oxide is uncoated in both.

Does this smell like other sunscreens?
You won’t find the same ‘tropical’ scent that you are used to from other sunscreens. It is scented although it really isn’t a strong smell and it isn’t bad at all.

So what does it smell like?
Fair question, it won’t smell like your typical bottle of sunscreen. The closest scent is probably like olive oil.

Does it work despite being coral friendly?
It works fantastic! However it is thick and you may not want to use it every day, but it is ideal for the times when you are in and out of the water or you are extremely fair skinned.

Stream2Sea Suncreens

Stream2Sea biodegradable, tested and proven reef safe sunscreen for face & body, mineral sunblock with SPF 20 UVA/UVB

Eliminated Reef Damaging Ingredient: Oxybenzone, Nano particulates of Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide
Active Ingredient: Titanium dioxide (non-nano particle)

Believing in the principle that everything will end up in the ocean, Stream2Sea has developed sunscreen products that does not involve the use of reef damaging ingredients such oxybenzone, titanium oxide and zinc oxide. Instead, they use the derivative of these mineral compounds which comes in a non-nano particle.

This means that even if their sunscreen is dislodged from the skin, it will eliminate the potential clogging of coral pores which houses the living coral organism – the coral polyp.

After passing several rigorous test like biodegradability, aquatic toxicity and reef safety, the company is convinced that they have found the formula for reef safe sunscreen and further developed body care products, like:

This mineral-based sunscreen is specifically formulated to be applied in the main frame of the body. Containing 8.8% of Titanium Dioxide (a non-nano particle), the Stream2Sea Sunscreen for Body is also made from organic materials like green tea leaf, wakame seaweed, olive leaf and aloe vera.

Most of the users of Stream2Sea Sunscreen for body said they have save a lot without sacrificing quality and efficiency. For instance, one user claimed he bought a 3-ounce bottle and used it for 10 consecutive days during a Caribbean Holiday. He got back home consuming only half the bottle and no sunburn or any skin irritation was noticed.

This body lotion is formulated to cater most types of skin tone and texture while reducing the whitening effects of mineral sunscreens and blends well with most skin colors.

This product is favored by most scuba divers where they claim to be very effective even under intense sunlight. They have also observed that it does not leave a white film, as what other products does.

Just remember that there are 2 sun protection factors available for the tinted sunscreen. One is the SPF 20 which uses 6.6% of titanium dioxide while the SPF 30 has 8.8% and has been tested to be effective and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Scuba divers and snorkelers are the avid users of Stream2Sea Tinted

Sunscreen where they claimed the product does not easily wear off and still effective even after they have finished their second dive of the day.

Specifically formulated for body and facial application, the Stream2Sea Sunscreen for Face and Body has become a best seller for beach lovers. Containing powerful antioxidants from green tea, wakame seaweeds, Tulsi and olive extracts, users of this sunscreen lotion has appreciated its non-greasy properties that does not irritate the eyes in case of contact. Many have manifested that this sunscreen lotion holds on tightly in your skin and does not wear out even when underwater. Another manifestation of the effectiveness and gentleness of the Stream2Sea Sunscreen for Face and Body is when water enters the mask during a dive where users notice no irritation especially in the eyes and mask clearing can easily be done.

Other Reef Safe Products from Stream2Sea

We all know that both the sun and saltwater may affect our skin and other body parts. With this, Stream2Sea has developed other body products that does not use reef-damaging chemicals.

The Sun Protect Lip Balm, when applied 15 minutes prior to direct sun exposure, may significantly reduce the drying of your lips. Stream2Sea has also developed a Leave-in Hair Conditioner that does not use commercially available shampoo and hair conditioner ingredients and soothes your hair after hours of saltwater exposure.

Thinkbaby Sunscreens

Eliminated Reef Damaging Ingredient: Oxybenzone and Nano particulates of Titanium Oxide
Active Ingredient: Non-nano particles of Zinc oxide

Composed of physicians and scientists that deals with latest on chemical and biological science, the team behind Thinkbaby makes baby-related products, which we presume is highly safe to use. While their product line already includes baby bottles, sippys and other baby related canisters, the company thought of a product that will protect the largest organ of a human body – the skin. And formulating a sunscreen needs special formulation as the skin of their target users are often sensitive and delicate.

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ - 6oz Family Size

Free from oxybenzone and titanium oxide, Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen has been given the Rated No. 1 classification by the US Environmental Working Group where it is deemed safe for cosumer use. And not just this, with the absence of oxybenzone and titanium oxide in its ingredients, it is also considered a coral friendly sunscreen. It has a broad spectrum UV-A and UV-B protection with a Sun Protection Factor of 50+ and a water resistant lotion that guarantees an 80-minute shield against the sun’s UV rays.

Looking at the brand name, misconceptions often tell us that this sunscreen is only for babies. While it is initially, however, there are a growing number of adults using this ocean friendly sunscreen who spend hours under the sun (whether at work or leisure) and claimed that they didn’t notice any effects of UV radiation like sunburn.

There is no dangerous chemicals such as Avobenzone, oxybenzone, or UV chemical absorbers! It is the first sunscreen to pass whole foods premium care requirements.

Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+, 6 Ounce

Well, if you are conscious or awkward enough about the word “baby” in the product label, yet you are an adult using a sunscreen intended for infants, then might as well consider their adult version. Having the same ingredients with its baby version but on a different concentration to suit the needs of an adult, The Thinksport Safe Sunscreen offers the same UV protection but is formulated for the highly active.

If you try to compare the ingredients between the Thinkbaby and the Thinksport, everything is the same, except that the Thinkbaby uses papaya which ideal for baby skin while Thinksport uses Currant and Grapefruit which is deemed more suitable for a sweaty skin.

Nonetheless, users of Thinksport Safe Sunscreen claimed that, regardless of skin tone, it does not leave redness of the skin even in long hours of sun exposure. Some also claimed that even if they have pre-existing conditions like pimples and eczema, the product has no adverse effects.

Thinksport SPF 50+ Safe Sunscreen Cream for Kids, 6 Ounce

I can’t help but imagine calling out our kids from their peers while you are holding up high the Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen. It’s either they will tell you: “Oh no, not again” or “Mommy, I’m not a baby anymore“.

If you don’t want your kids to be embarrassed in front of their peers while giving them an effective sunscreen, then the Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen is the prefect reef safe biodegradable sunscreen for them. While it has a Sun Protection Factor of 50+ that ensures your child’s protection against UV-A and UV-B rays, it is also reef safe as it doesn’t use most of the reef-damaging ingredients.

Many parents claimed that the Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen easily rubs in their kids skin and does not cause any skin irritation or sunburn even if they allow they young ones to play under the beach sun for hours. A couple of Moms also shared stories of their kids who have very sensitive skin, that after applying the sunscreen, just continued playing without any complaint of rashes or allergies.

Mexitan Biodegradable Sunscreens

Eliminated Reef Damaging Ingredient: Oxybenzone and Nano particles of Titanium Oxide
Active Ingredient: Titanium dioxide (non-nano particle)

Mexitan Sunscreen is a unique reef safe biodegradable sunscreen that uses a non-nano particle of titanium dioxide (instead of zinc oxide, as previously shown in other Eco-friendly sunscreen brands) as their main active ingredient. Tropical Sandsand Coral Safe Sunscreen, two of their banner products, are both considered reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen as it contains no harmful ingredients that can harm the reef and uses only mineral-based compounds and organic ingredients that are all biodegradable in nature.

Tropical Sands Natural SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, 8 fl oz. - Biodegradable, Broad Spectrum Sunblock, Kid and Baby...

Formulated to be used by all ages, the Tropical Sands Unscented Biodegradable Sunscreen is one of the few popular biodegradable sunscreen brands that infuses green tea and non-nano particles for maximum protection against UV radiation.

Most of its users, usually snorkelers and scuba divers, claimed that the 80-minute guaranteed protection against sunburn indicated in their product label is true as manifested by their outdoor adventures.

Many of its users said this sunscreen is very effective and is often the recommended brand in Marine Parks that requires the use of an Eco-friendly sunscreen. Many have appreciated its non-greasy lotion, but on the other hand, feels awkward when a generous amount is applied as it leaves a thick white film. The only downside that we feel about this product is that it has a coconut scent, despite claiming to be unscented.

Other Eco Friendly Sunscreens To Consider

Even though we need to protect your skin, your lips are just as important or sometimes even more if your out having fun and out with your spouse! This Lip Balm is fantastic. A great price for a great product.

All natural, it is approved by the skin cancer foundation and recommended! It contains Cocoa Butter, its gluten free and 100% vegan so it is great and healthy for everyone!

Another great product rated in #1 safety on EWG, 100% non-nano Zinc sunscreen. The SPF 30 is soy, dairy and gluten free! Great for everyone including adults, kids, babies and is reef safe along with being hypoallergenic!

You can use this on your body as well as your lips and it won't leave a weird taste in your mouth even if you lick your lips. It is 80 minute water and sweat resistant and will also moisturize with certified organic oils and jojoba. Not only is great in the ocean to protect the reefs and marine life but if you are out playing sports and sweating it will leave you protected and last!

All Good is a top rated sunscreen free of gluten, paraben, PABA, non-nano particle and GMO so there is nothing but good and health protecting suns screen in this product! There is Organic Green Tea Extract and rose hips for anti aging.

It doesn't stop there though, it is unscented with minimal aroma and doesn't leave a white cast on fair skin. It is non-greasy and won't sting your eyes and it is reasonably priced! If you are susceptible to certain skin conditions and have rosacea this won't affect it and make matters worse.

Still a great product and a little more reasonably priced the Green Screen Organics Sunscreen is formulated from a 86% certified organic formula and only has 8 ingredients, less is more!

It is biodegradable, reef safe, and great for protected aquatic parks for the maintenance and growth or reefs and marine life! It is fragrance free, gluten free, corn free, chemical free and vegan! Suitable for anyone with any allergies or specifications.

Buyers Guide to  Reef and Coral Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreens

What is the one thing common to all of us when we put ourselves under direct sunlight?

The answer is: Exposure to ultraviolet rays.

While sunlight can be the source of life and nourishment for plants and other living things, it is somewhat the other way around for humans. Sunlight contains ultraviolet rays (abbreviated as UV rays) that can damage our skin and causes skin disorders, especially if direct exposure would mean several hours or more. But, it is impossible to confine ourselves all the time under the shade and that a part of our daily routine requires us to expose ourselves under direct sunlight.

To counter the effects of UV radiation, we put on sunscreen. We all do, unless otherwise you want yourself to be at risk of having skin cancer like melanoma or carcinoma. But do we really know what is a sunscreen and that it is not just another kind of lotion, gel or spray we buy in the market?

What is a Sunscreen?

Also termed as sunblock or suntan lotion, sunscreen is a mix of compounds that we apply on our skin that either absorbs or reflects the sunlight’s UV rays, thereby protecting us against skin damage which is commonly referred to as a sunburn.

Often comes in the form of a lotion, gel or spray, there are two general types of sunscreen wherein their classification is based on how the compounds react when UV rays touches our skin. Chemical sunscreen has compounds that absorbs UV light while Physical sunscreen reflects out the sun’s deadly rays. Regardless of the type of sunscreen, it does not guarantee total protection against UV radiation and that a certain percentage of the UV light will still come in contact with our skin. This is where SPF or Sun Protection Factor comes in and has become the rated unit for all sunscreen products. SPF is the measurement used to determine the amount (usually in fraction) of UV rays that reaches the skin. It simply means that the higher the SPF – the lesser ultraviolet rays gets in to our skin.

Example: A sunscreen that has SPF 15 means that 1/15 (or 0.07%) of the UV ray reaches the skin while SPF 50 can be expressed as 1/50 or 0.02%.

So, which is better in protecting your skin against UV rays: the SPF 15 or SPF 50?

Further, sunscreens are formulated to provide specific protection against UV-A and UV-B rays. You have to take note that within the UV spectrum, there are 2 wavelengths that can significantly damage our skin. Ultraviolet A (abbreviated as UV-A) has the ability to penetrate deep in to our skin’s deepest layer – the dermis while Ultraviolet B (abbreviated as UV-B) only reaches the outer skin layer but will often leave a superficial burn.

What are common ingredients of a Sunscreen?

Advertisements will tell us to buy their sunscreen product. But they do not tell us to read and know the ingredients behind it. Seldom than often, we do not read the ingredients behind a sunscreen product except for the SPF factor indicated in the front packaging. While ingredients vary per product, there are common compounds found in most sunscreen that is organic, mineral and synthetic in nature.

Oxybenzone – also found in hair products, this aromatic organic compound is effective in UV ray deflection. Aside from sunscreen, mass application of oxybenzone includes as an additive in making plastic products.

Titanium oxide – this mineral compound is known to effectively deflect UV light. This is also the reason why it has become the preferred ingredient for paint.

Zinc Oxide – this water insoluble synthetic compound, when converted to its nano version, is an efficient deterrent against UV radiation. It’s UV blocking properties has also been used in sunglasses and welding shields.

Why do sunscreens damage coral reefs?

When we go outdoors, especially for a beach picnic, one of the important things we never forget to bring is a sunscreen. In fact, we apply a generous amount of sunscreen to our skin hours before we expose ourselves under the sun. But what happens when we take a dip or swim, some of the sunscreen is removed from your skin, reacts with the saltwater and has been found out to cause adverse effects especially in the marine environment.

Oxybenzone, titanium oxide and zinc oxide has been found out to hasten the production of hydrogen peroxide which is a known killer of plankton. And as we know it, plankton sits at the bottom of the food chain where bigger animals rely on them as food. This is on top of the fact that plankton is one of the food source for corals. Further, titanium oxide and zinc oxide are often mixed as nano particles (meaning they are very small with a size lesser than 100 nanometer or 0.00001 millimeter) and binds into a small clump that clogs the coral pores which houses the symbiotic plankton (called zooxanthellae) that is considered the very life of a coral colony. Once these coral pores are blocked or clogged, the zooxanthellae living inside the coral cannot grow and nourish itself anymore as it also needs sunlight to survive. Overtime, as the coral receives less nourishment caused by sunlight blockage, the overall color of the coral slowly turns in to white which signals mortality.

Now, here’s the thing: just imagine the environmental damage brought by the huge crowd of beach goers and swimmers (all with sunscreen), not just locally, but worldwide. Although the amount of sunscreen we apply to our skin is only up to a few milliliters (ml) or milligrams (mg), global estimates reveal an alarming figure where an estimated 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen per year are washed off from human skin and ends up in the coral reef and other parts of the ocean.

What makes sunscreens biodegradable?

One of the common misconception we initially think if we talk about biodegradable sunscreen is the bottle. We often think that these body products are contained and packed in a biodegradable container. No, it is not about the bottle, but rather, the sunscreen itself.

For companies to manufacture a biodegradable sunscreen, the often change synthetic compounds found in regular sunscreen to organic materials. This means that the three common ingredients found in most sunscreen are replaced by mostly plant-based ingredients like aloe vera, green tea, seaweeds, olive leaf and the like. By replacing synthetic compound with organic matter, the bio-degradation of a biodegradable sunscreen would only take a short time, as compared to the ingredients of a regular sunscreen that would take years to disintegrate and can no longer cause further damage to the environment.

What is a reef safe sunscreen?

There is a growing number of skincare companies today that is compassionate about taking care of the environment, and at the same time, make a profit out of the developed Eco-friendly sunscreen. Aside from adapting the biodegradable concept in to their product where the use of organic substances has become the preferred ingredient, these skincare companies have addressed the specific problem of nano particle ingredients used in common regular sunscreen which is considered the main cause of damaging the reefs.

Generally, nano particles have a smaller size compared to its original counterparts. Simple logic will tell you that smaller particles have a high possibility of clogging coral pores as compared to compounds with bigger size. With this, skincare companies have stopped synthesizing active ingredients of sunscreen in to its nano version. Instead, they synthesize these active ingredients which are non-nano in size and structure. A perfect example of this synthesis is: titanium dioxide (a non-nano particle) which is derived from the synthesis of titanium oxide (a nano particle and is the main ingredient in causing reef damage).

Final Thoughts

Much like every other product on the market, you really have to watch what you buy. Just because it says biodegradable or reef safe does not always mean that is in fact true. Normally I go over 10 products but I feel with "reef safe" sunscreen these are my tops picks and any one of them would be a great option.

There are lots of brands out there that falsely advertise it and it may be because they slid just under the radar for a "reef Safe" brand.

For example Alba Botanica which says it is safe but also contains palm kernel oil which promotes destruction of rain forests. It also contains 10% Homosalate and Octocrylene which is a no no for chemicals. I am NOT saying this is a bad sun screen but not exactly safe for reefs and use your own judgement when choosing such products.

Now this all may sound the same but trust me there are so many different types of lotions and sunscreens that you need to be aware of and in some certain circumstances you have to have reef safe sunscreen in many national parks or you cannot even go snorkeling or diving or even go in the water a non biodegradable or reef safe sunscreen.

This is just a starting point and if we all chip in we can create a difference in our world. I will go over what to look for in reef safe sunscreen, best biodegradable sunscreen, coral safe sunscreen, ocean friendly sunscreen and best snorkeling sunscreen.

It is amazing that the word "Eco friendly" has not come sooner into our vocabulary because we need to protect ourselves and the environment and this is the only way to do it.

You will hear the terms reef safe sunscreen, biodegradable sunscreen, coral safe sunscreen and ocean friendly sunscreen and they all really mean the same thing and I will go over our top results for sunscreen that will help you stay sun safe and protect the environment.

Always question products as well because just because it says “reef safe” or “biodegradable” look at the ingrediants to make sure!

Apply sunscreen a good 15-20 minutes before entering the water so it can absorb into your skin and make an even less likely chance that you can harm the reef system.

If you have been using products for years sometimes they will change the recipe for one reason or another so it is up to you to do the research and make sure the sunscreen and lotions are what they say. If you are travelling to Belize or Mexico and even the Bahamas most national parks will check to make sure you have suitable sunscreen to protect the environment so make sure you have the right products so the coral and marine life and prosper for as long as we do!!

Stay safe and remember to double check the label!

You can further read about the study mentioned in first paragraph at:

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