Best Reef Safe Sunscreen, Ocean & Eco Friendly Brands

raw elements reef safe sunscreen

Did you know that Hawaii passed a bill on May 1, 2018 that bans sale of sunscreens with dangerous chemicals to reefs? NOAA states sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate are indeed harmful to coral reefsEHP as well confirms that sunscreen chemicals may be causing coral bleaching.

We updated our list of eco friendly sunscreen brands on the market in 2019 to figure out which ones are reef safeOur top choices based on verified buyer experiences and EWG sunscreen test results are:

  1. Kokua Reef Safe Natural Zinc Sunscreen (SPF 50)
  2. Thinksport Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen (SPF 50)
  3. Badger - SPF 35 Clear Zinc Sport Sunscreen Cream (SPF 35)
  4. Raw Elements Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Reef Safe Biodegradable (SPF 30+)
  5. All Good Sport Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen (SPF 30)

What to look for in Reef Safe Sunscreen?

No sunscreen is 100% safe for marine life, oceans, and reefs in particular. However, some sunscreen brands (specifically sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate) are significantly more friendly compared to sunscreen with dangerous ingredients.
Here are the main ingredients to look for and chemicals to avoid in sunscreen while choosing a safe natural one for oceans:

  1. Top ingredient to look for in a reef safe sunscreen is almost always
    non nano zinc oxide.
  2. Top dangerous sunscreen ingredient to avoid is oxybenzone and octinoxate. Make sure to carefully read the label to confirm your product is oxybenzone free.
  3. Avoid butylparaben, octinoxate, triclosan, PABA, octocrylene,  and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor in sunscreen ingredients. Remember a non oxybenzone sunscreen is a must. 
  4. Water resistant sunscreens are better as less ingredients will wash of your body and face into the ocean - so if you are looking for sunscreen for swimming, snorkeling or diving, check the water resistance duration on label.
  5. Parabens - another big NO - paraben free sunscreen is good for the ocean and good for sunscreen safety for your face and body.
  6. Check if the sunscreen brand "claims" their products are “reef safe / friendly" or "coral safe / friendly". If you are going to be in Hawaii (OahuKona or any other favorite snorkeling beaches) make sure to comply with Hawaiian laws for reef safe sunscreen use.

And even though there is no eco sunscreen that is 100% safe for coral reefs, please make sure to watch the following award winning short (Reefs at Risk) and always consider using ocean friendly sunscreens:

What Sunscreens are Reef Safe?

Acclaimed for its efficiency, the Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Sunscreen is truly reef safe – and not only on the label. Containing 25% non-nano particles of zinc oxide, it provides outstanding UVA and UVB protection while having zero impact on marine wildlife. 

Indeed, the product contains no reef or marine-toxic ingredients and meets the world’s strictest national standards, those of Palau. 

Non-toxic and eco-friendly, this sunscreen is also friendly for your skin. Its formula is enriched with 23 natural antioxidants that nourish and moisturize your derma while preventing the action of free radicals.

Boasting a 1 rating on EWG, it’s safe to use by babies 6 months and up, as well as by adults.

Thanks to its natural formulation, it can also be used by those with a compromised immune system or who suffer from skin allergies. 

Users declared it goes on smoothly and rubs in quickly until it disappears. It leaves no whitish residue on the skin, yet its protection lasts for hours. Lightweight, it doesn’t leave any nasty, greasy feel.

Kokua Sun Care is definitely not the cheapest sunscreen out there, but it delivers exceptional value for money.

Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+, 6 Ounce

Does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate and other harmful chemicals to oceans

Highest SPF 50+ and highest level of UVA and UVB protection

Last update on 2019-08-17 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Top-rated by EWG since 2010, Thinksport Sunscreen is a product developed for beach and outdoor sports. Safe to use by kids and adults alike, it contains 20% non-nano zinc oxide and is free of biologically harmful chemicals including parabens, phthalate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone, as well as UV chemical absorbers.

It provides a broad spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB and boasts water resistance for up to 80 minutes

Besides the mineral active ingredient, this sunscreen boasts an all-natural formulation that moisturizes and nourishes the skin. 

It’s fairly easy to apply and smells really nice, but it leaves some whitish residue on the skin. Washing it off, though, can be a pain, especially if you like to apply a thicker layer of sunscreen. 

Containing extracts of grapefruit and currant, Thinksport has a tangy, citrus smell that may be unpleasant to younger kids. If you like the ocean friendly sunscreen formulation but want a more kid-friendly version, you could opt for the Thinkbaby or Thinksport Kids sunscreens. While Thinksport Kids 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 contain the reef-damaging ingredients. 

All three formulations are the same except for the fragrance; indeed, the baby and kid formulas contain papaya rather than grapefruit and currant. 

Fairly priced, Thinksport is vegan-friendly, a coral friendly sunscreen and is not tested on animals.

Thinksport is also the first sunscreen to pass whole foods premium care requirements

Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube

If you’re after an effective mineral sunscreen that doesn’t cost your weight in gold and that goes clearer on the skin, the Badger Clear Zinc Sport Sunscreen could be it. 

Manufactured in the USA by a family-owned company, it contains clear zinc oxide in a concentration of 22.5% as the active ingredient. Working hard to formulate an environment safe sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate, from the very beginning, they never used synthetic sunscreen chemicals, artificial fragrances, paraben, oxybenzone and GMO’s. The inactive ingredients are certified organic and non-GMO, making the sunscreen suitable for the whole family.

Its SPF 35 makes it a better choice for older kids and adults, though. Nevertheless, the broad-spectrum sunblock protects against both UVA and UVB. 

Soothing and ultra-moisturizing, the sunscreen also acts as a lotion that protects and nourishes the skin. It’s lightweight and leaves no nasty oily feel. 

Users particularly like the lack of scents and fragrances, a feature that makes it suitable to use with your favorite perfume. However, the sunscreen doesn’t go as clear on the skin as the manufacturer claims, and it’s not so reef-safe as stated. 

Indeed, to make its sunscreen clearer, the company used nano-sized zinc oxide particles, which are biodegradable but harmful for corals and other marine life. A valid alternative is the Badger Sports Sunscreen SPF 35, which contains the same ingredients but non-nano uncoated zinc oxide so it is biodegradable and is safe for coral reefs and the marine ecosystem in general. 

Regardless of which version you buy, this sunscreen is top-rated by EWG, certified cruelty-free, and water-resistant for at least 80 minutes. A great choice for swimmer, surfer, and watersports athletes.

Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube

Badger only uses five ingredients in their formula: sunflower seed oil, beeswax, seabuckthorn fruit extract and non-nano uncoated zinc oxide. With these ingredients, the Badger unscented sunscreen is considered one the best biodegradable sunscreen out in the market.

This simple reef safe sunblock formula that comes in the form of a lotion is the 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.

Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream - 2.9 fl oz Tube

Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic,...

Reef-safe and cruelty-free, the Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen is a great choice for kids and adults alike, but perhaps not the most inspired pick for toddlers and infants due to its lower SPF factor.

Indeed, this sunscreen has an SPF 30+; nevertheless, it provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB. Like most reef safe sunscreens, it has non-nano zinc oxide as an active ingredient in a concentration of 23%.

An array of inactive organic ingredients make it gentle on skin and moisturizing. 

Soy, gluten, and nut-free, it’s also suitable to use by those suffering from allergies. Furthermore, not only sunscreen is reef safe; the whole product is environmentally friendly

In fact, Raw Elements comes in biodegradable and recyclable packaging

This performance-driven sunscreen is top-rated by EWG; the water-resistant formula lasts for up to 80 minutes even while swimming. 

It doesn’t have the best smell, but it becomes odorless upon application. The formula also remains clear on the skin

Criticism regards the packaging and the consistency of the sunscreen rather than its efficiency. Apparently, it’s quite a struggle to squeeze it out of the tube and apply it evenly. Nevertheless, most users appreciate that you can use it on both face and body. 

Parents were also satisfied with how well this product protected their kids. Environmentally safe and responsible, this sunscreen from Raw Elements is a great choice for days at the beach or a tropical vacation. So basically Raw Elements is one of our top picks for Eco-friendly sunscreen which provides reef safe quality sunscreen.

Since Raw Elements is one of our top recommended reef-safe sunscreens, we compiled a short FAQ for Raw Elements products:

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

Does Raw Elements leave a white film that makes me look like a ghost?
Most reef safe sunscreens without oxybenzone and suntan lotions 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 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. And honestly it is more important to care about which sunscreen is safest for your skin.

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.

Is Zinc Oxide safe for the skin?
Yes, it is perfectly safe and several EWG #1 rated products are non nano zinc oxide.

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.

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 sunscreen brands?
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.

Does it work despite being a coral friendly sunscreen?
It works fantastic! However it is thick and you may not want to use it every day, but it is ideal for the snorkel lover, so as the scuba diver and frequent swimmer - when you are in and out of the water.

All Good Sport Sunscreen Lotion - Zinc Oxide - Coral Reef Safe - Water Resistant...

All Good Sports Sunscreen lotion is another excellent reef-safe product to consider. Containing 12% non-nano zinc oxide particles, it doesn’t leave a strong whitish sheen on your skin, and some users claim it’s even clearer than the Badger. 

Formulated for active adults, it’s a great choice for watersports, including diving and snorkeling. Offering a broad spectrum SPF 30 UVA and UVB protection, it resists water and sweat for up to 80 minutes. 

Top rated by EWG, this unscented lotion also contains organic green tea and rosehip oils that can repair damaged skin. 

Despite the sports in its title, the lotion is also suitable for kids. It’s vegan, reef-friendly, and gluten-free. 

If you need a product specifically for children, though, the baby formula could be a better choice. It contains almost the same ingredients but replaces the green tea and rosehip oils with chamomile extracts. This formula is more suitable for youngsters as well as adults with very sensitive skin. 

While it provides decent coverage, some users have judged this lotion as hard to blend; seemingly, applying some moisturizer before the sunscreen could ease up the process and reduce the whitish sheen. 

It’s a bit on the expensive side considering the size of the tube; nevertheless, this is another great reef safe sunscreen to throw in your beach backpack.

Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion - 3 Ounces, Best Natural Mineral...

Babo Botanical impresses with its clearer look despite containing non-nano zinc oxide particles. Developed for babies, kids, and people with super-sensitive skin, this mineral sunscreen is hypoallergenic and soy, dairy, and gluten-free. 

The lotion is developed for the face, nose, lips, and ears, but it’s been successfully used for whole-body protection for both kids and adults. 

Relatively cheap compared to other options, it’s top-rated as safe for both humans and the environment by EWG. 

With a concentration of 19% of non-nano zinc oxide, it provides SPF 30 broad-spectrum protection. 

The product also contains an array of certified organic ingredients known for their skin-repairing properties. 

Ideal to use at the beach or for watersports, the Babo Botanicals sunscreen is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50|Reef Friendly Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB...

The Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion is advertised as safe for adults and kids of all ages. However, the presence of fragrance and some chemicals make it a tad less suitable for infants, toddlers, and people with hypersensitive skin or suffering from allergies. 

Indeed, it’s rated 2 by the EWG because of the fragrance and phenoxyethanol, a compound that can irritate sensitive skin.

Apart from this downside, the lotion contains a host of natural ingredients and, with a concentration of 20% zinc oxide, it’s also reef-safe. At least theoretically, that is, because the manufacturer doesn’t specify the size of the particles. 

We are frequently asked the question in user comments: "Is Sun Bum reef safe?" The team behind Sun Bum products use the term "reef friendly" specifically on their website they put up after the Hawaii ban. So best judgement is yours by checking the ingredients on the packaging which we have included in the below image.

Given the reef-safe claim on the tube and the fact that the lotion is slightly tinted, we tend to believe they are non-nano particles. 

According to its users, the lotion applies easily but has quite a strong “nail salon” fragrance you may or may not like. Despite the tint, it also goes on a bit whitish. 

Perhaps not the best mineral sunscreen out there, the Sun Bum is still a valid alternative if you’re looking for a more wallet-friendly yet effective product.

Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50|Reef Friendly Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB...

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen - Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ Broad Spectrum...

From the Australian brand Blue Lizard, this allegedly reef safe sunscreen is safe for older kids and adults, but we wouldn’t recommend it for infants, toddlers, or people with sensitive skin. 

The reason is the hybrid chemical-mineral formulation. This sunscreen lotion has two active ingredients, containing 4% octocrylene and 9.7% zinc oxide. Whereas the former is not known to harm the corals, the manufacturer doesn’t disclose the size of the zinc oxide particles. As such, it’s hard to tell whether this product really is coral-safe. 

Furthermore, the octocrylene, as well as some of the other inactive ingredients, can cause rashes and allergic reactions in youngsters and people with sensitive skin. 

If you don’t mind the partially chemical composition and don’t plan to bath or swim excessively in reef areas, you might like this product though. 

It goes smoothly on the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy feel. Slightly whitish at first, it becomes clear as it absorbs into the skin. The mineral ingredient ensures broad-spectrum protection, and the product is even water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. 

This sunscreen provides SPF 30+ protection when applied correctly and is fragrance-free. Not great for a vacation in tropical places, it’s undoubtedly a great general-use sunscreen to put on when spending time outdoors under the summer sun.

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen - Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ Broad Spectrum...


Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30, Waterproof, 2 oz.

Mama Kuleana might not be the cheapest sunscreen out there; but if you care about your health and the health of our oceans, it’s undeniably a great choice. 

Manually made in Maui, Hawaii, this reef-safe sunscreen contains no harmful chemicals. Most of its ingredients are organic, and as all reef-friendly product, it contains non-nano zinc powder. However, the brand doesn’t disclose its concentration.

It goes white on the skin; however, we like that the brand is very straightforward about this aspect. Perhaps the only downside is the price, considering the package size. 

Ideal for all ages, it provides broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection and is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. This means you’ll have to apply it slightly more often than other sunscreens. 

Users also praise the brand’s attempt to cut off pollution on all levels. Indeed, the lotion comes in cardboard rather than a plastic container. Both the sunscreen and its container are biodegradable and environmentally friendly, making it a great choice for eco-savvy beach-goers.

Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30, Waterproof, 2 oz.
SurfDurt: Original Reef Safe Sunscreen - Eco Friendly - Water Resistant -...

There are quite a few things to like about this reef-safe sunscreen by SurfDurt. Ideal for people of all ages, it provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB SPF 30 coverage. It’s gentle on the skin and boasts an innovative formulation that only contains food-grade ingredients besides the 23% non-nano zinc oxide. 

Environmentally friendly, it comes in a 2oz bamboo container that’s reusable and biodegradable. Furthermore, the sunscreen is made in an eco-sustainable facility running on solar energy. 

But the best part is that it’s tan instead of white. It’s still visible on the skin, but it looks less awkward than white biodegradable sunscreen. 

There seem to be mixed feelings about its chocolate smell; some love it. Others claim they would have expected a more refreshing, summer scent. Whether you like it or not, it’s hard to deny this product’s effectiveness. 

Blocking the sun rays in all environments, it’s water and sweat resistant for up to 80 minutes. 

Thanks to the absence of any synthetic chemicals and hormone disruptors, this product is also a wise choice for children. 

Like most physical sun blockers, it may stain your clothes if you don’t pay attention when applying it. Other than that, though, the product has no flaws. It’s not yet rated by the EWG; nevertheless, it’s one of the best reef-safe sunscreens you can get. 

Amavara Mineral Sunscreen - Transparent Zinc Oxide, Reef Safe, Water-Resistent,...

Amavara found a great compromise between cosmetic appeal and reef safe ingredients, and its Mineral Sunscreen facial lotion is an excellent choice for children and adults alike. 

Manufactured in the US, it only contains naturally-sourced non-nano zinc oxide in a concentration of 19%. It provides SPF 30+ broad-spectrum protection, and thanks to its neutral tint, it goes completely clear on the skin. 

Users also like how easy it is to apply. It has the consistency of body lotion; it isn’t too thick nor too thin and blends in easily. 

Professionally tested and safe to use by people with allergies, it’s rated 2 by EWG, it’s reef-safe and cruelty-free. 

Not only the product is environmentally friendly, the company further protects the environment by making the packaging from recycled plastic. The product is safe for all ages and all types of skin. 

Furthermore, it’s also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, thus ideal to use while soaking in the ocean or during watersports. Made for the face, it’s not irritating for the eyes, and it can also be used successfully on the rest of the body. Just make sure to shake it well before applying.

MANDA Organic Sun Paste - SPF 50 Sunscreen - 15g

MANDA Organic sunscreen is one of the most expensive lotions out there, but it’s well worth the price. 

Ideal for children 6 months old and over, as well as for adults, this all-natural sun crème contains only food-grade ingredients; it’s safe for humans as well as the environment, and it provides SPF 50 UVA and UVB protection. 

More than a crème, this sunscreen is a thick paste that leaves a visible layer on your skin. However, it’s not as white as other products out there, so you won’t risk looking like Casper on the beach. 

Natural organic ingredients apart, people love that it contains thanaka. This is a natural ingredient originally from Myanmar and commonly used as a natural cosmetic and sunscreen by the indigenous population. 

Apparently, this substance also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. 

Containing 23% non-nano zinc oxide and no chemicals, this sunscreen is also safe to use in reef areas. 

Although the product is not waterproof, users have claimed it resists well in water. Like most paste sunscreens, it’s somewhat annoying to spread on your skin; the great part, however, is that you can use it on both face and body. 

With an environmentally-conscious approach, the brand also chose its package carefully. This sunscreen comes in a biodegradable type of plastic made from sugar cane, and that is not harmful to the environment. Moreover, the packaging is also recyclable. 

Natural, hypoallergenic, and safe for everyone, including marine life and tiny humans, this is an excellent sunscreen to get if you don’t mind its heftier price.

KLAR Pure Zinc Oxide SPF 30 Face & Body Sunscreen, NSF/USDA Certified Organic,...

Another reef-safe sunscreen that has made it to our list, the KLAR Pure Zinc Oxide SPF 30 is a perfect choice for your whole family. It’s hypoallergenic and ideal for infants, kids, and adults. 

As clearly indicated by its name, it provides SPF 30 protection; it contains 20% non-nano uncoated zinc oxide, and like all zinc oxide mineral sunscreens, it provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB. 

More than a beach sunscreen, this is an all-rounder suitable to use daily, even on adventures at high altitude or for beach and watersports. 

It resists sweat and water for up to 80 minutes, but users claim it washes off faster. Some even claimed you could achieve the best protection by reapplying every half an hour if you plan to stay a lot in the water. 

The product is dermatologically tested on human volunteers, but completely cruelty-free. However, if you’re looking for a vegan sunscreen, this one might not be it despite the company’s claims. Indeed, this sunscreen contains beeswax.

Although it is not rated by EWG, the organic formula is certified by the QAI to NSF/ANSI 305 standard and holds the NSF Organic certification.

TruKid Sunny Days Sport SPF 30 Plus Reef Safe Water-resistant UVA/UVB Sunscreen...

A mineral sunscreen lotion for kids, TruKid Sunny Days Sport offers SPF 30+ broad-spectrum protection and is a great choice for the whole family. 

Rated 1 by EWG, it contains no potentially harmful ingredients. Indeed, the formula is all-natural, hypoallergenic, and safe for people with eczema. 

With 20% non-nano zinc oxide, this sunscreen is also reef and environmentally safe. Furthermore, organic ingredients such as jojoba oil and aloe extracts also moisturize and repair damaged skin. 

The product has excellent water resistance for up to 80 minutes; it’s also cruelty-free and tested by both pediatricians and dermatologists. 

Those using this sunscreen love how easy it is to apply compared to other physical sun barriers. It goes on smoothly and is unscented, so it won’t bother younger kids or hypersensitive people. Some feel it may come off quicker than advertised, but you should reapply the product when you come out of the water anyway. 

It will look white on your skin, but that’s a small price to pay if you want all-round protection for all ages.

Stream2Sea SPF 30 Reef Safe Sport Sunscreen, Natural, Water Resistant,...

Formulated for face and body, the Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen Lotion is deemed as safe for the kids but more suitable for adults. 

Unlike the other sunscreens above, it doesn’t contain zinc oxide. Instead, it contains 8.8% non-nano titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Due to the lower concentration of powder, the product is more cosmetically appealing. 

It’s not completely clear, but it’s surely clearer than zinc oxide on the skin. The only issue is that titanium dioxide might not be as reef-friendly as scientists originally believed. 

Due to the lack of solid research, you can still use this product in most reef-conscious places. 

Rated 2 by EWG, the product is not completely natural. Some ingredients to pay attention to if you have sensitive skin or allergies are the benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, and sorbic acid. 

These ingredients apart, the product is rich in antioxidants and provides SPF 30 protection against both UVA and UVB. 

It may not be the best choice for youngsters and not the most reef friendly sunscreen, but it’s still an affordable choice for your beach holidays. 


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 in 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.

Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion - 3 Ounces, Best Natural Mineral...

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 and this is the very main reason we are looking to use sunscreens that doesn't hurt or harm coral.

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, they 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 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 Eco-friendly sunscreen market. Aside from adapting the biodegradable concept into their products 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).

Sunscreen Safe for Ocean...

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 in my research for snorkelsandfins.com but I feel with "reef safe" sunscreen the research had to be much deeper.

For example Alba Botanica which used to say it is reef 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 in sunscreen. 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 without a 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 and the marine ecosystem. I did 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 often hear the terms reef safe sunscreen, biodegradable sunscreen, coral safe sunscreen and ocean friendly sunscreen and these really are the future of this industry to help all of us stay sun safe and protect the environment while being safe for coral reefs.

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. Always question products as well because just because it says “reef safe” or “biodegradable” - look at the ingredients to make sure! 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 prosper for as long as we do!!

Have fun and remember to double check the sunscreen ingredients and the label - each of our decisions matter to save the coral reefs!

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Jenna - April 10, 2019

Please Remove Sun Bum- it is not reef safe. It is the only one that is not a mineral based sunscreen and very misleading. Also Raw Love Sunscreen from Maui is another great choice and plastic free! Thanks

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Laura Wright - July 11, 2019

Would you please look into Sand Cloud? It is a fantastic sunscreen that is reef safe? Also, can you NOT use EWG? They promote half-truths and inflate the harmful rating of various chemicals. A better resource would be Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a non-profit scientific organization dedicated to increasing the scientific, social and economic knowledge of natural environmental habitats in order to better conserve and restore threatened environmental habitats and resources. Thank you.

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Aimeedanger - July 23, 2019

Every single one of these comes in a disposable, non-reusable plastic container. Are you kidding me? Plastics are killing marine life, choking and clogging up ecosystems, and doing who knows what else. Please list sunscreen that is actually safe for marine life. The product inside is just one aspect of it.

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