FYI: While your sunscreen is hard at work protecting your skin, it’s killing the environment. (Not to put a damper on your snorkeling excursion, but yeah … you should care.)
Most chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone, which is believed to be the culprit. “Oxybenzone damages coral DNA, inhibiting its ability to reproduce, causes deformities on the coral, makes coral more susceptible to bleaching, and initiates endocrine disruption,” says All Good CEO and founder Caroline Duell. “Found in over 3,500 sunscreens sold in the U.S., oxybenzone is the most common, harmful chemical linked to bleaching fragile coral reef populations worldwide … and humans are contributing an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen into rivers and oceans each year.” Duell adds that as little as one drop in the equivalent of six-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools can seriously harm coral reefs and marine ecosystems.
Dr. Craig Downs, executive director of Haereticus Environmental Lab, urges, “The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” particularly the Caribbean. where a least 80 percent of the coral reefs have already been lost. “Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”
You should also know that oxybenzone is only one of several sunscreen ingredients that are toxic to coral. Known as the Awful 8, these chemicals should be avoided at all cost: Oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, PABA (Aminobenzoic Acid), enzacamene, octisalate, homosalate, and avobenzone.
Fortunately, there’s a wave of skincare companies that are taking their duty to the environment with all seriousness and creating not only some of the most protective broad spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreens, but fun, multi-purpose, spray, cream, scented, and kid-friendly options do good for the world we’re so excited to play in. Lather up with these best reef-safe sunscreens.
Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen
This sunscreen is biodegradable, reef safe, easy to apply, is water resistant up to 80 minutes, offers maximum UVA and UVB protection and has a coconut oil base for moisturization and natural sun and wind protection. The thick, white nature of the sunscreen means you’ll never miss a single spot and end up looking like a beach leopard. Zinc oxide base provides the strongest natural protection possible. And, of course, it’s completely reef-safe. All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick is a winner of The Manual Grooming Awards 2018.
Other Great Options
Certified organic for starters, Stream2Sea’s lip balm reminds us that not only our backs can burn. Cover your kisser with this reef-safe formula that uses a potent antioxidant blend of green tea, tulsi, aakame, and olive leaf, which protects you against UVA rays and the reefs from damage — it’s biodegradable and safe-tested for fish and coral larvae.
Even among its all-natural sunscreen peers, Manda stands out for its commitment to sustainability. Zinc-based sunscreens are better for the environment than chemical sunscreens, but zinc still must be mined from the Earth. That’s why Manda’s sunscreen has a lower-than-usual zinc content, which they make up for by adding thanaka, an ancient natural sunscreen made from the ground-up bark of a tree native to Myanmar. Bonus: The sweet cinnamon scent will have you dreaming about pastries during your beach nap.
Honey Badger do care … about protecting your skin and the environment. That’s why Badger’s lavender-scented sunscreen cream is given the thumbs up by pro divers and adventuring families alike. Swapping the traditional coconut/pina colada/teenage-perfume scent of most sunscreens, we love this herbaceous and subtle lavender twist. We also love that the sunscreen is sweat- and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. Good-for-your-skin ingredients include organic seabuckthorn, vitamin E, and sunflower oil, and the cream protects against UVA and UVB rays with zinc oxide — a reef-safe physical blocker.
Sport sunscreens are notorious for washing off before your water-based or sweat-inducing activity is over. However, Raw Elements’ sun lotion is “very water resistant beyond 80 minutes,” the amount of time most sunscreens last. You’ll really appreciate that if you’re nearing the 80-minute mark on your sunscreen layer just as the waves come up, or you’re having too much fun to remember to reapply. This version of their SPF 30 sunscreen comes in a recyclable tin, so there’s no plastic to worry about. If you prefer a lotion, Raw Elements has you covered (pun intended).
Although best known for its organic skincare line, Eir NYC puts a huge emphasis on performance with the Surf Mud collection, which comes in this handy stick form as well as a tin. In addition to the ray-blocking benefits of zinc, this formula utilizes the moisturizing powers of coconut oil, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and beeswax.
Unlike most zinc-based sunscreens, this one from the California-based All Good brand comes in a handy, water-resistant spray instead of a thick paste (which can be hard to apply evenly over large areas of skin). You’ll also find such ingredients as organic green tea, rose hips, and buriti oil. Feel good about the fact that All Good partners with 1% For The Planet, so you’re helping the environment in more ways than one.
Neon party paint meets environmentally-friendly SPF 50 in Bare Republics cool new line of colored sunscreen sticks. Six colors — Electric Blue, Goblin Green, Punk-Rock Pink, Wicked Purple, Lightning Yellow, and Atomic Orange — protect your face in style, using cruelty-free mineral active ingredients. Each stick also features its own scent made from food-grade ingredients. This will change beach parties forever.
Planning a trip to Hawaii? You’ll be happy to hear that the state’s legislature is passing a new bill banning the sale and distribution of any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or oxtinoxate. So get your reef-safe sunscreen before the trip to save on costs!
Article originally published June 6, 2013. Last updated by Chase McPeak on July 10, 2018.