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Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

On May 1, 2018, Hawaii passed a bill that bans the sale of sunscreens that have dangerous chemicals to reefs. NOAA states that sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate are very harmful to coral reefs. In addition, EHP also asserts that sunscreen chemicals can cause coral bleaching. 

A reef safe sunscreen will consist of non toxic ingredients that cause no harm to coral or other marine wildlife in the coral ecosystem.

Just because the label has wording like Oxybenzone and Octinxate Free, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the sunscreen is safe for the reef. A lot of chemical sunscreens aren’t reef safe despite the fact that they don’t contain the above mentioned substances. Nano sized particles of ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can also cause damage to corals. 

The only sunscreens that are safe for reefs are the ones that have non-nano zincoxide or titanium dioxide, and those that have natural inactive ingredients. 

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreens

OUR TOP PICK

The Kokua Reef Safe Sunscreen really is an honestly reef safe sunscreen that doesn’t just claim to be safe on the label. It’s well known for its efficiency too! It contains 25% non-nanoparticles of zinc oxide, and provides incredible UVA and UVB protection, while simultaneously having no impact on the marine wildlife.

In fact, the product contains no ingredients that are toxic to coral reefs or marine life. The sunscreen meets even the strictest national standards too, including those in Palau. This is the main reason why this sunscreen is at the top of our list of the most eco friendly reef safe sunscreens out there. 

The sunscreen is non toxic and eco friendly, but did we mention that it’s also good for your skin? This formula contains 23 natural antioxidants that moisturize and revitalize your skin while also stopping the action of free radicals.

The sunscreen has a 1 rating on EWG too, so it’s suitable to use it not only on adults but also on babies from 6 months old and up.

As it has a natural formulation, the sunscreen can also be used by people that have a compromised immune system or for those that struggle with skin allergies. 

Many users have said that this sunscreen goes on very smoothly and can rub in quickly, disappearing shortly afterwards. It doesn’t leave any white colored residue on the skin, and the protection still lasts for numerous hours. It’s lightweight too, so it doesn’t leave behind a greasy and disgusting feel. 

While this certainly isn’t the cheapest sunscreen out there, it’s definitely worth the money for the outstanding value for money that it offers.

EDITORS CHOICE

The Thinksport Sunscreen has been top rated by EWG since 2010, and is widely considered to be one of the best eco friendly sunscreens out there. It can be used both by children and adults, and contains 20% non nano zinc oxide. It’s also totally free of harmful chemicals such as parabens, phthalate, oxybenzone and avobenzone, in addition to UV chemical absorbers. 

The sunscreen gives a wide range of coverage against UVA and UVB and it also has water resistances lasting up to 80 minutes.

In addition, Thinksport also has an all natural formulation that feels great on your skin, providing moisturization and nourishment. 

The sunscreen is very easy to apply and has a lovely smell, but it does leave a little bit of whitish residue on the skin. It can be a bit annoying to try and wash it off though, especially if you’re a fan of thicker layers of sunscreen.

The sunscreen contains extracts of currant and grapefruit, so it has a citrus, tangy smell that younger kids may not be too fond of. If you are fond of the formula but want a version that’s more kid friendly, then you could opt for the Thinkbaby or Thinksport Kids sunscreens, and both of these are also ecologically friendly options.

All of these formulas are the same, but the fragrance differs. The kid and baby formulas have papaya instead of currant and grapefruit. 

The product is priced quite fairly, and it’s vegan friendly. It hasn’t been tested on animals either, so it’s cruelty free.

In fact, Thinksport is impressively the first sunscreen to pass the whole foods premium care requirements.

BEST VALUE

If you want a clear sunscreen that’s reef safe, and doesn’t cost you a fortune, and additionally is easy to apply, then you will really like the Badger clear zinc sunscreen.

The sunscreen was manufactured in the USA by a family owned company, and it contains a clear zinc oxide formula with a concentration of 22.5% as the main active ingredient. The inactive ingredients, then, are certified organic and non-GMO, so they can be used for the entire family.

It’s ideal for older kids and adults too due to the SPF 35 rating. The Badger sunblock also protects against both UVA and UVB.

The formula is ultra moisturizing and soothes the skin, and protects and nourishes at the same time. It’s very lightweight and you will be pleased that it doesn’t leave a nasty oily feel.

Many users are particularly keen on the lack of scents and fragrances included, which means that it can be used along with your favorite perfume or cologne. With that being said, the sunscreen doesn’t go as clear on the skin as it’s claimed to be by the manufacturer, and it’s not quite as coral reef safe as it says.

In order to make the sunscreen clearer, Badger have included nano sized zinc oxide particles. While these are biodegradable they are still harmful for corals and other marine life. A good alternative, then, is the Badger Sports Sunscreen SPF 35, and this contains exactly the same ingredients without the nanoparticle zinc oxide. 

Whichever version you opt for, Badger is still a top rated sunscreen by EWG, they’re cruelty free and also ater resistant for up to 80 minutes. This is a fantastic reef safe sunscreen for swimmers, surfers and watersports athletes alike.

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Yet another brand that’s reef safe and cruelty free, the Raw Elements formula is a fantastic choice for both children and adults. Though, it may not be the best option for toddlers and infants as it has a lower SPF factor. The packaging of Raw Elements does say that the product is certified natural sunscreen but you still should not mix it with a certified reef safe sunscreen as this kind of certification doesn’t exist on a level that is globally accepted yet. 

The sunscreen boasts an SPF 30+ factor, and provides broad spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB. Similarly to the majority of reef safe sunscreens, this formula has non nano zinc oxide as a key active ingredient with a concentration of 23%. It has a range of inactive organic ingredients too that make it very gentle on the skin and moisturizing.

The formula is free of soy, gluten and nuts, so it can be used by those with allergies too. In addition, the sunscreen is not only safe for coral reefs, but the entire product is incredibly eco friendly.

Actually, the Raw Elements sunscreen comes in recyclable and biodegradable packaging. 

Similar to the Badger brand, this high performance sunscreen is highly rated by EWG. This water resistant formula can even last up to 80 minutes, while swimming too! 

According to a lot of customers the smell isn’t the best but when you put it on your skin it becomes odorless. It also stays clear in appearance on the skin. 

The main criticisms about the product are about the packaging and the sunscreen’s consistency - not the efficiency. It’s a little difficult to squeeze it out of the tube and evenly apply it. Otherwise, most users are happy that you can use it both on your body and your face.

Parents are also pleased about how well the brand protects their children. This is a high quality environmental sunscreen that isn’t harmful to coral reefs, making it a fantastic choice for those days at the beach or for a vacation in a tropical area.

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This is yet another fantastic reef safe sunscreen that you should definitely consider. The sunscreen contains 12% non nano zinc oxide particles, so it doesn’t leave a whitish color on your skin. Some customers that have used this sunscreen have actually said that it’s even clearer than the Badger formula.

Created for active adults, this is a fantastic choice for watersports such as diving and snorkeling. It provides a wide spectrum SPF 30 UVA and UVB protection, and can resist water and sweat for up to 80 minutes.

The product is top rated by EWG, and contains organic green tea and rosehip oils that are able to repair any damaged skin. 

Even though it has sports in the title, the lotion can still be used by children. It’s entirely vegan, and coral reef friendly. It’s even gluten free! 

If you are looking for a sun screen brand especially for children, you may be better off opting for the baby formula, this has almost the exact same ingredients but the green tea and rosehip oils are replaced with chamomile extracts. It’s very well suited for young people in addition to adults that have particularly sensitive skin.

Though the sunscreen does give decent coverage, it’s worth mentioning that some users have said that this lotion is a little hard to blend. If you apply moisturizer before you put the sunscreen the process may be a little easier and may help to reduce the slightly white sheen.

The product is a little expensive especially when you consider the tube size, but otherwise it’s a good reef-safe sunscreen that you can throw into your beach backpack.

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The Babo Botanical Non-Nano Mineral Sunscreen is certainly one sunscreen that is designed to impress. It has a clearer look even though it contains non nano zinc oxide particles. In addition, it’s made for babies, children, and anyone with highly sensitive skin, so this mineral sunscreen is totally hypoallergenic and free of gluten, dairy and soy.

The lotion has been designed to be used on the nose, face, lips and ears, but it’s also been used with great success on the whole body, both for children and adults.

It’s also pretty cheap in comparison to some of the other options, and it’s been top rated as safe for both humans and for the environment, according to EWG.

It has a concentration of 19% non nano zinc oxide, and provides SPF 30 broad spectrum protection too.

The sunscreen has a bunch of certified organic ingredients too that are designed for skin repairing, so your skin will feel nice and smooth after use.

It’s perfect to use both at the beach and when participating in water sports, especially because it’s water resistance for up to 80 minutes. 

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One pretty common question that we see is ‘are the Sun Bum products safe for the reef?’ Of course, the Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion has been advertised as being suitable for use by adults and children at all ages. One thing we should mention though is that because it has fragrance and some chemicals, it’s a little bit less suitable for toddlers, infants and for people that have very sensitive skin or for those suffering with allergies.

The EWG have given it a rating of 2 because of the presence of fragrance and phenoxyethanol.

Aside from this issue, the lotion actually has a bunch of great natural ingredients and it’s not harmful to coral reefs as it has a concentration of 20% zinc oxide. In theory it is certainly safe for coral reefs, but the manufacturer does not specify how large the particles are. 

As the product claims that it’s reef safe on the tube and because the lotion is somewhat tinted, we lean towards the assumption that these particles are non nano.

Users claim that the lotion does apply quite smoothly but it has a bit of a strong ‘nail salon’ like smell to it that you may like or dislike. Aside from the tint, it also does apply a little whitish.

While it may not be the best mineral sunscreen on the market, this is still a good alternative version if you need an option that’s a little more friendly on the wallet that’s still going to be effective.

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Coming from the Australian brand Blue  Lizard, this sunscreen is apparently not harmful to coral reefs and it’s suitable for older children and adults. It may not be the best choice for infants, toddlers and those with sensitive skin, however.

Why is this? It mainly comes down to the hybrid chemical-mineral formula. The sunscreen contains 2 active ingredients: 4% octocrylene and 9.7% zinc oxide. While the first of these ingredients isn’t necessarily known to harm coral reefs, the manufacturer does not mention the size of the zinc oxide particles. Because of this, it’s a little tricky to tell whether this sunscreen is actually safe to use in areas with coral reefs. 

In addition, the octocrylene, in addition to some of the other ingredients that aren’t active, can sometimes cause rashes and allergic reactions in young children and in those that have sensitive skin.

If you aren’t bothered by the somewhat chemical make up of this sunscreen (you will need to make the same considerations with blue lizard vs sun bum) and you aren’t planning on bathing or swimming often in coral areas, you may be quite fond of this product.

The product goes onto the skin smoothly and will not leave you with a greasy feel. It is a little whitish at first, but it becomes clear as it starts to absorb into the skin. You will get broad spectrum protection due to the mineral ingredient, and the product itself is actually water resistant for up to 80 minutes. 

The sunscreen gives SPF 30+ protection when it’s properly applied and it is fragrance free. It’s not ideal for getaways to tropical places, but it’s a decent general use sunscreen that you can wear when you are spending a lot of time outdoors during the summer months.

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While this isn’t necessarily the cheapest sunscreen on the market, you are sure to appreciate this product if you care a lot about the health of the marine ecosystem and about your own health.

The sunscreen is manually made in Maui, Hawaii, and it’s a reef safe formula that doesn’t have any harmful chemicals. The majority of the ingredients it is made up out of are completely organic. Also, similarly to all coral reef friendly products, this contains non nano zinc powder. With that being said, the brand doesn’t mention its concentration.

The sunscreen goes white on the skin, but the brand does make this very clear. The main issue with this product is certainly the price though, especially when thinking about the size of the overall package.

The Muma Kuleana formula is environmentally friendly and it can be used by all ages. It gives broad spectrum SPF 30 protection too and it’s even water resistant for up to 40 minutes. This does mean however that you are going to need to apply this a little more regularly than most other sunscreens. 

Customers also enjoy that the brand tries to reduce pollution on all levels. The lotion actually comes in cardboard instead of a plastic container, and this container is biodegradable so it’s a fantastic choice if you’re looking for an environmentally friendly sunscreen.

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There are a number of things to enjoy about this reef safe sunscreen. It’s perfect for people at all ages, and provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB SPF 30 coverage. It’s very gentle when you apply it onto the skin and it has a very innovative formula. It actually only contains food grade ingredients, beside the 23% non nano zinc oxide.

It’s environmentally friendly, coming in a 2oz bamboo container that’s totally biodegradable and even reusable. The sunscreen is even created in an eco sustainable facility that’s run on solar energy! 

One of the best parts of this sunscreen though is that it’s tan instead of white. It can still be seen on the skin but it doesn’t look as awkward as some of the other biodegradable sunscreens that we’ve covered here. 

Opinions are a little divided in regards to its chocolate smell. Some people think it’s great, but others say that they would rather have a more summer-like scent. Whether you do or don’t like it, you can’t deny the effectiveness of the product.

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

Because it doesn’t have any synthetic chemicals or hormone disruptors, the product can also be used by children.

SImilarly to most physical sun blockers, you should remember that it could possibly stain your clothes if you aren’t paying enough attention when you are applying it. Aside from that though, the product is pretty much ideal in every way. It has yet to be rated by the EWG, but otherwise it’s definitely one of the best coral reef safe sunscreens that you can get. 

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This sunscreen provides both great cosmetic appeal and an eco friendly sunscreen solution. The sunscreen is a Mineral facial lotion that’s ideal both for adults and children.

Created in the US, the sunscreen only contains a naturally sourced non-nano zinc oxide with a concentration of 19%. The sunscreen provides SPF 30+ broad spectrum protection and it applies clear on the skin due to the neutral tint.

Customers state that the formula is easy to apply, with a similar consistency to body lotion. The lotion is neither too thin nor too thick and will blend in easily on your skin.

The product has been professionally tested and it’s been approved for use for people with allergies. It’s also rated 2 by EWG and it’s totally reef safe and cruelty free.

The sunscreen has a bunch of high ratings from customers that have used it, so it’s a good choice for that alone. With that being said, there is yet another selling point for this product - the company has taken steps to provide extra protection for the environment by creating the packaging out of recycled plastic. It’s ideal for use for all ages and all different types of skin. 

In addition, the sunscreen is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, so you can use it while you’re relaxing in the ocean or during water sports. It’s been made for the face so it doesn’t irritate the eyes, and it can be used effectively on the whole body. You just need to make sure that you thoroughly shake the bottle before applying it. 

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The Manda Reef Safe Sun Creme is by no means the cheapest sunscreen, but it’s definitely worth the cost you pay for it. 

The Manda Reef solution is perfect for children that are 6 months old and over, and it also works well for adults. This is an all-natural sun creme that contains only food grade ingredients. This is a high quality sunscreen that is certainly safe for use in the ocean, and it provides SPF 50 UVA and UVB protection.

This is not just a cream. The sunscreen is like a thick paste and it will leave a visible layer on the skin, but it’s not quite as obvious as some of the other products on the market, so you don’t need to worry about looking like a ghost. 

Aside from the natural ingredients, people are very happy that the sunscreen contains thanaka. This natural ingredient originates from Myanmar, and it’s often used as a natural cosmetic and sunscreen by the indigenous population. 

Another great thing about this sunscreen is that it has anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. 

It has 23% non nano zinc oxide and contains no chemicals, so the sunscreen is ideal for coral reef areas. 

While the product is not waterproof, a lot of people who have used it have said that it works quite well in water. Similar to a lot of paste sunscreens, it is a little irritating to apply it to the skin, but on the other hand it’s great because you can apply it both on your body and face. 

The brand has also carefully chosen their packaging to ensure that it is environmentally friendly. It is packaged in a biodegradable plastic that’s made out of sugar cane, which does not harm the environment. In addition, this packaging can also be recycled once you are done with it. 

The solution is hypoallergenic, natural and totally safe for everyone - it can be used on young children and it doesn’t harm marine life. It’s a fantastic sunscreen that’s worth the investment if you aren’t bothered by the slightly more expensive price. 

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Yet another great reef safe sunscreen, the Klar Coral Reef Safe Biodegradable Sunscreen is the ideal choice for your entire family. This hypoallergenic solution can be used by infants, kids and adults alike, so no need to buy separate sunscreen for different family members. 

As the name suggests, this sunscreen provides SPF 30 protection, and contains 20% non-nano uncoated zinc oxide. Similar to all other zinc sunscreens, this offers a broad spectrum protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays.

This isn’t simply a beach sunscreen - this sunscreen is suitable to use on a regular basis, even when you’re exploring at high altitude or when you’re out on the beach and embarking on watersports. 

The sunscreen resists water and sweat for up to 80 minutes, but a lot of people that have used it have claimed that it washes off faster than this. Some have even said that you can get even better protection by reapplying the formula every half an hour if you do intend to stay in the water for longer periods of time.

The product has been tested on human volunteers so it’s totally cruelty free. It should be noted however that this may not be the best choice if you are looking for a totally vegan sunscreen, as this sunscreen includes beeswax in the formula.

The sunscreen has not been rated by EWG but it has been certified by the QAI to NSF/ANSI 305 standard and it also holds the NSF Organic certification. 

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While it may say that this formula is designed for kids, the TruKid Sunny Days Sport offers SPF 30+ broad spectrum protection for the entire family! 

The product is rated 1 by EWG and it does not contain any possibly harmful ingredients. In fact, this formula is hypoallergenic, all-natural and it doesn’t cause any harm for people that have eczema.

This sunscreen is totalyly safe for coral reefs, containing 20% non nano zinc oxide, and honestly it’s definitely one of the best environmentally safe sunscreens out there. In addition, it uses organic ingredients like jojoba oil and aloe extracts that help to repair and moisturize damaged skin.

This product has pretty amazing water resistance for up to 80 minutes, and it’s cruelty free. It’s also been tested by dermatologists and pediatricians alike so you can be sure that it will be safe for your kid.

People that have used this sunscreen have said that it’s incredibly easy to apply, especially in comparison to other physical sun barriers. It applies seamlessly to the skin and it’s not scented either, so it’s not going to irritate young children or people with sensitive skin. It should be noted that some users have said that it may come off a little faster than what is advertised, but it’s important to reapply the product when you leave the water anyway. 

The product is going to look a little white on your skin but this is a decent trade off for all around protection for people of all ages.

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Created to be used both for the face and the body, the Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen lotion is most suited for adults but it’s not harmful for children.

One way this product differs from the other sunscreens listed above is that it doesn’t contain zinc oxide. Instead of zinc oxide it instead contains 8.8% non nano titanium dioxide

As the active ingredient. Because the concentration of powder is low, the product is also more appealing cosmetically. 

The formula isn’t totally clear but it’s much clearer than zinc oxide is. The main problem is that titanium dioxide may not be as coral friendly as scientists first thought. 

The research is not yet solid on this subject so you can still use this product in the majority of coral friendly places.

The product is rated 2 by EWG, but it’s not completely natural. There are a few ingredients that you should pay attention to if you do have sensitive skin or allergies, and these are the benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid and sorbic acid. 

Aside from these ingredients, the product has a lot of antioxidants and it gives SPF 30 protection against UVA and UVB. 

This isn’t necessarily the best choice for young children and it’s hardly the best sunscreen as far as reef-friendliness goes, but it’s still a pretty affordable option for your next beach trip.

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Created in Hawaii and made from natural ingredients, this is an all-natural mineral sunscreen that is great for both you and the reefs. The formula contains 23% non-nano zinc oxide and gives SPF 35+ protection. 

The formula is perfect for all types of skin and ages, and it has a smooth application despite the fact that the formulation is concentrated. 

Similar to most of the sunscreens we’ve mentioned here, this is water and sweat resistant. You should still remember however that it is quite white on the skin, even though the brand says that it is clear like a lot of other top coral reef friendly sunscreen brands.

This is a really good choice for people who like watersports, but its shelf life is somewhat short because it has plant based ingredients.

A lot of users have said that they are happy with the amount of protection that they get from the sunscreen, and people also like the nice scent. Some people do think that there’s just not enough product in the 4 ounce container for the price. It’s definitely an expensive product. 

Regardless, if you are looking to be as environmentally and ocean safe as possible, then this natural mineral sunscreen is certainly a good option for you.

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With only 6 organic ingredients, vitamin E and 10% non nano zinc oxide, this is a mineral based moisturizing sunscreen that you don’t want to miss out on. Even better? It’s one of the best brands of reef safe sunscreen out there!

The sunscreen has been made for people of all sorts of ranges, from young children to adults, and it will give UVA/UVB broad spectrum SPF 36+ protection. In fact, the manufacturer says that during the clinical testing the product even resulted in SPF 40 protection for some of the test subjects.

The sunscreen is packed like a face stick and it can be used over the entire body, it’s even very easy to apply too! The sunscreen is seamless to apply and you will only see a very slight whitish tiny that you can rub into the skin quite easily.

It’s a lot clearer than a lot of reef safe sunscreens too, and it’s suitable for older kids and adults in particular that would rather not look like ghosts.

The sunscreen is very good for the environment and also for the coral reefs, and comes in a tinted version and a lotion version.

No matter what your choice, all of the formulations are cruelty free, chemical free and are packaged in eco friendly packaging.

The product has not been rated by EWG yet but users have praised it highly, so it’s a fabulous choice for the whole family.

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This is a cruelty free, chemical free and certified organic formula. It is certainly one of the best products that you can use for your children. It contains 25% non nano zinc oxide and the only other contents are four certified organic ingredients.

The product is considered reef friendly so it can be used in any place where chemical sunscreens have been banned in addition to all other beaches. This solid formula is easy to spread, more so than a lotion, and it blends in to a clear consistency in comparison to other reef safe sunscreens. 

It seems to be a little easier to apply when it’s cooler so the product shouldn’t be kept in the sun. You should still consider that it may take a little bit of effort to blend the product in. 

The coconut oil also means that it’s well suited to people that have drier skin. There are some mixed opinions regarding the sweet vanilla scent of the sunscreen, with some users liking it and others thinking that it would be better with a scent that’s more summery. 

The formula is non irritating and hypoallergenic, and it’s top rated by EWG. It can actually be used by the whole family. It’s also well priced for its size, and it’s carry on friendly - no need to worry about carrying liquid sunscreen inside your suitcase on the way to your beach holiday. 

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For those who are looking for a sunscreen that looks good while providing ample coverage, the Beauty by Earth Biodegradable Reef Safe sunscreen is a good choice for you. This tinted sunscreen is definitely worth your consideration.

It’s a little like a foundation in that it covers minor skin imperfections, but it also provides SPF 20 UVA and UVB protection. It is somewhat similar to a moisturizer in how it performs on the skin, and it contains 11% non nano zinc oxide particles.

While this tinted sunscreen is a little more geared towards woman, it is suitable for children of all ages due to its organic ingredients and natural formulation. Simultaneously, this product is coral reef and environmentally safe.

The sunscreen comes in three different colors that you can match with your skin color, but it should be noted that it’s not ideal for all kinds of skin. The moisturizing action is good for people that have drier skin but if you have more oily skin it may cause breakouts due to the coconut oil. 

The formula is perfect for use on a daily basis, and it even has anti aging properties. It’s vegan friendly and water resistant too, so it’s a great choice across the board.

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The Goddess Garden Sport Sunscreen has been top rated by EWG. It contains 20% non nano zinc oxide as an active ingredient, so it’s very safe for reefs and offers lots of protection for the skin.

The product can be used for the entire family, and even the youngest babies and toddlers can use it. With that being said, it’s important to note that the product contains phenoxyethanol which can cause allergies and skin irritation.

The formula is effective and gentle, and even provides up to 80 minutes of water resistance. 

One of the most praised features of this sunscreen is that it applies so easily onto the skin. One of the things that people really love about this sunscreen is that it’s incredibly sheer when it’s applied but it’s not overwhelmingly white, so a lot of women feel that it can be worn under makeup without it looking awkward.

This means that the formula can also be a good fit for older kids that may take issue with the sheer white look of a kid’s sunscreen.

While the formula is unscented it does have a bit of a natural smell that is pleasing to most users. The manufacturer stats that the product blends in a little easier if it’s layered on top of moisturized skin.

Aside from the fact that it’s reef safe and coral friendly, we also think it’s great that this product is cruelty free and vegan friendly. 

Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands - Buying Guide

What Chemicals Found in Sunscreen are Bad for Coral Reefs?

The research is still ongoing about the effects of common cosmetic chemicals on marine life and corals, but researchers have noticed 11 chemical ingredients that may damage and kill coral reefs. To avoid damaging the reefs, you should avoid sunscreens that include the following ingredients: 

  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • 4-methyl benzylidene camphor
  • Ethylparaben
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methylparaben
  • Triclosan
  • Butylparaben
  • Propylpareben
  • Benzylparaben

Some plastic microbeads that are used in certain products and nanoparticles of minerals, for example titanium dioxide, can also be harmful to corals.

It’s worth noting that no sunscreen is ever going to be 100% safe for oceans, marine life and coral reefs in particular. With that being said, some sunscreen brands (such as sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate) are much more friendly to the reefs that sunscreen that contains more dangerous ingredients.

So, here’s a summary of some of the sunscreen ingredients you should look out for and the kinds of chemicals you should avoid when you’re looking to buy a sunscreen suitable for the reef.

  1. The main ingredient you should be looking for when buying a reef-safe sunscreen is pretty much always non nano zinc oxide.
  2. The main dangerous sunscreen ingredients that you should make sure you avoid are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Before buying you should make sure that you read the label carefully to make sure that the product is free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. 
  3. You should also avoid butylparaben, octinoxate, triclosan, PABA, octocrylene, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor when buying sunscreen ingredients. A non oxybenzone sunscreen is essential.
  4. You should ideally opt for a water resistant sunscreen because less ingredients are going to wash off your body and face when you’re in the ocean. If you are trying to get a sunscreen for snorkeling, swimming or diving, you should check for the water resistance duration on the product’s label.
  5. Parabens are another huge no. You should be trying to opt for a paraben free sunscreen for the ocean and paraben free products are very good for the safety of your face and body. 
  6. You should try to check if the brand says that their products are ‘reef safe/friendly’ or ‘coral reefs safe/friendly.’ If you are planning to be in Hawaii Oahu, Kona or another one of the favorite snorkeling beaches, then you should ensure that you are acting in compliance with the Hawaiian reeff safe sunscreen laws.

Why are Reef Safe Sunscreens Important?

There has been a lot of research conducted by scientists in the past decade looking into how the vast amounts of sunscreen that wash off our bodies and into the ocean every year can affect marine life. The studies conclude that chemical sunscreens can threaten the whole marine ecosystem.

For this reason, it’s important to make an eco conscious choice and choose sunblock from the coral reef sunscreen list. Not just for the corals either.

Here are five reasons why you should be using reef safe sunscreen.

Chemical Sunscreen is Able to Awaken Coral Viruses

The chemical composition of the ocean can be changed quite significantly by sunscreen washing off so many swimmers and divers. Because of this, the water can become a place where viruses and bacteria can thrive. A lot of these viruses attack corals and this can make them expel their algae that give them life, and this can result in coral bleaching.

It’s not only the algae that’s expelled either. When this process occurs, the colorful and tiny organism explodes, which means that the viruses can spread to the surrounding coral communities much more easily.

The Chemical Ingredients in Sunscreen can Kill or Bleach Corals

Aside from the action of viruses, research conducted has demonstrated that some of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens can trigger coral bleaching and can actually kill some of these organisms. 

While it’s trye that a lot of countries that have sunscreen bans in place fight against only octinoxate and oxybenzone, scientists have also discovered that butylparaben and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor can have an action similar.

It’s important that you use a sunscreen that doesn’t have these ingredients if you wish to keep the integrity of the marine ecosystem.

Chemical Sunscreens Don’t Only Harm Corals

The same ingredients that can cause coral bleaching can also have an effect on other forms of marine life. Fish can even be affected by octinoxate and oxybenzone.

The substances can behave similarly to hormone disruptors and can cause feminization in male fish. This can stop their reproductive activity which can mean that a lot fewer fish are reproducing. 

The Local Economies Can Be Threatened by Sunscreen Pollution

Sunscreen can kill coral reefs, which in turn can cause a whole bunch of extra problems. To start with, fish and crustaceans can be left without somewhere to live, and this can mean that these creatures will also die. In addition, fish reproduction is also affected, so chemical sunscreens can mean that a bunch of marine species go extinct. 

As you may imagine, there are consequences to this. To start with, diving spots that are quite famous start looking very unattractive and become sterile. Then, with fewer fish in the area, there are also fewer fishing opportunities for businesses that are local that survive on fishing. 

As a lot of coral reef areas are reliant on tourism and fishing, the disappearance of these things equates to the extinction of the local communities.

Chemical Sunscreens are Not Healthy for Humans, Either

Your chemical sunscreen isn’t only bad for the environment, but it’s also bad for you too. Many users get rashes and allergic reactions just to start with, but researchers have also looked into the carcinogenic effects of octinoxate and oxybenzone.

The other chemicals that are usually used to make these products also behave like hormone disruptors. This can cause huge problems for fetuses if they are used by women who are pregnant. They are also bad for infants and toddlers.

When you think about the negative impacts that these chemical sunscreens have both on us and on the environment, it’s important to change our habits and use eco friendly sunscreens.

A much better choice is to opt for natural mineral sunscreens. In addition, you can even use other eco friendly methods to protect yourself from the sun, and you will be keeping the global economy and our ecosystem safe in doing so. 

Safe Sunscreen for the Ocean - It’s Up to You

Similar to most other products out in the world, it’s so important that you pay attention to what you buy. While a product may say that it’s biodegradable and reef safe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is true. A lot more research has to be put in when it comes to ‘reef safe’ sunscreen as there are a lot of incorrectly advertised products out there. 

It is quite incredible that the phrase Eco Friendly hasn’t always been in our vocabulary, because it’s so important to protect both ourselves and the world around us, and this really is the only way to do it. The terms reef safe sunscreen, biodegradable sunscreen, coral safe sunscreen and ocean friendly sunscreen are phases that are the future of the industry. These products truly are the things that will keep us healthy while still protecting the environment, without harming the coral reefs. 

If you’ve been using the same products for many years, it is worth noting that sometimes manufacturers will alter the recipe for varied reasons, so it is you prerogative to ensure that you do the research and ensure that the ingredients are still eco friendly. You should always cast some doubt on products too. Just because the label says it’s reef or coral safe, it doesn’t mean that they are. If you are planning on traveling to Mexico or Belize, or possibly even the Bahamas, the majority of national parks will ensure that you have suitable sunscreen so you can protect the environment. With that in mind, make sure that the products you have are the right ones so that the marine life and coral can live on for years longer!

Always make sure that you double check the ingredients of your sunscreen and the label, because your decisions matter. Make sure that when you’re having fun that the environment is having just as much of a good time as you are! 

Frequently Asked Questions

What sunscreens are banned in Hawaii?

At the moment, Hawaii does not allow sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, but it does still allow you to use other chemical and mineral sunscreens. The main exception to this rule is prescription sunscreens. You can still use prescription sunscreens in Hawaii even if they do contain one or both of the banned substances. This ban in Hawaii is going to take effect from January 1, 2021. 

What sorts of sunscreen are safe for coral reefs?

Existing studies show that the only sunscreen that is safe to be used in coral reefs is the mineral sunscreen that has non nano size zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The non-nano sized particles means that their dimension is 100 nanometers or more, so the corals aren’t able to ingest them.

Are mineral sunscreens reef friendly? 

Generally mineral sunscreen is considered to be reef friendly. With that being said though, some studies have shown that mineral sunscreens that include nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are still able to cause coral bleaching as the corals are able to ingest the minuscule mineral particles. In addition, nanoparticles that are washed into the ocean can react with the UV rays and can create hydrogen peroxide, which is a compound that can kill phytoplankton. This is a vital nutrient for a lot of fish and coral species. This essentially means that only mineral sunscreens with non nano particles are reef friendly. 

Is avobenzone safe for reefs?

There is no conclusive research about the effects of avobenzone on coral reefs as of yet, but some preliminary research has suggested that it may not bee safe for reefs. Aside from this, avobenzone doesn’t really provide great UV protection. The compound can break down quite quickly and will allow sneaky UV rays to penetrate your skin. The best option is to use a natural mineral sunscreen, and this is the healthiest option for both you and the environment.

Is zinc oxide sunscreen safe for reefs?

Zinc oxide sunscreen is generally considered to be reef safe. With that being said, some recent studies have suggested that nanoparticles of zinc oxide can be ingested by corals, and this can result in coral bleaching and eventually coral death. As a result of this, you should only use the sunscreens that contain non nano particles of zinc oxide. 

Is titanium dioxide a safe sunscreen ingredient?

Titanium oxide physically blocks the sun and it’s safe for humans and marine wildlife alike. When this mineral is used in its non nano form it can’t be ingested by corals and it also doesn’t react in the same way with UV rays as it does in its nanoparticle form. The non nanoparticles are also too large to be ingested by small fish, coral and crustaceans. As titanium dioxide does not get absorbed into the skin, it also doesn’t trigger allergic reactions and it’s generally much safer to use than chemical sunscreens for kids and people that suffer from skin allergies or sensitive skin.

Are you able to use sunscreen in Hawaii?

Of course you can use and take sunscreen into Hawaii. The sunscreen ban in Hawaii is causing a little confusion because many people think that all kinds of sunscreens are banned. This is certainly not the case. The bill only bans the use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. As long as you make sure that your sunscreen doesn’t contain either of these two ingredients, or if you have a medical prescription for a sunscreen that contains one or both of these substances, then you will be able to use that sunscreen in Hawaii.

Is spray sunscreen environmentally friendly?

The short answer is no. Spray sunscreens are not only bad for the environment but they’re also bad for you. A lot of recent research has shown that even if spray sunscreens don’t have chlorofluorocarbons anymore, they still have a whole load of other chemicals that are certainly not good for the environment. In fact, they can even trigger allergic reactions. You can also inhale the mist of spray, and the particles that land on the sand can be washed into the ocean faster. The EWG advises that you should completely avoid spray sunscreen. 

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