Don’t Kill the Coral: Reef Safe Sunscreens You Need for Your Next Snorkel or Scuba

reef safe sunscreen
Manda Organic Sun Paste/Sarah Lee Photo

You might have heard that an ingredient in chemical sunscreens called oxybenzone is believed to kill coral reefs. Well, it’s the truth. As little as one drop in the equivalent of six-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools can harm coral.

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, physical sunscreens like zinc oxide are great at protecting your skin and much easier on the environment. Plenty of eco-minded companies have chosen to skip the Awful 8 in favor of formulas based on zinc and containing natural moisturizers like coconut oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax. No matter what you need it for — whether as a daily layer of protection or for spending hours in the water or on the move — there’s a reef-safe sunscreen for you.


All Good Sport Water Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 30, 6 oz – $22


Unlike most zinc-based sunscreens, this one from a Morro Bay, California-based brand comes in a handy spray bottle instead of a thick paste (which can be hard to apply evenly over large areas of skin). In addition to the organic green tea, rose hips and buriti oil in this product, you can feel good about the fact that All Good partners with 1% For The Planet, so you’re helping the environment by supporting them.

For the Face

Manda Organic Sun Paste SPF 50, 40 g – $28


Manda Organic Sun Paste / Photo by Nick Green

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: its sweet cinnamon scent will have you dreaming about cinnamon rolls during your beach nap.

In the Water

Raw Elements  Eco Formula 30+ Lotion Tin, 3.0 fl oz  – $19


Sport sunscreens are notorious for washing off before your water-based, or sweat-inducing activity is over. But 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 lotion comes in a recyclable tin, so there’s no plastic to worry about.


Eir Surf Mud Pro Stick SPF 50, 1.5 oz – $30


Known for their organic skin care line, Eir puts its emphasis on performance in their surf mud face stick. In addition to the ray-blocking benefits of zinc, this formula utilizes the moisturizing powers of coconut oil, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and beeswax.

Every day

MD Solar Sciences Mineral Creme SPF 30, 1.7 oz – $30


Though it relies on zinc oxide for protection, this formula won’t show up white on your skin. Everything about it — from the antioxidants to Vitamins C and E contained with in — are geared for sensitive skin, making it a gentle choice day after day.