Summer is coming and that means time under the sun! To get the best benefits from fresh air without worrying about UV damage, you’re going to want to invest in sunscreens that will work in all waters and on all skin types. To protect your loved ones and our environment on your beach vacation, it is important to choose a reef safe sunscreen that is not only skin-friendly but won’t harm the sensitive ocean ecosystem and doesn’t damage corals.
Reef safe sunscreen meaning
After a lot of confusing news regarding safe and harmful ingredients, you may ask how to decide what sunscreen is safe for reefs? First of all, you want to find one that is free of the chemicals oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene. These three chemicals, when applied to the skin, can leach off in salt water and be absorbed by coral reefs, leading to reef bleaching and death.
Oxybenzone absorbs UVB and UVA II rays. Once on the skin, it prevents damage by neutralizing the energy of a spectrum of light. Octinoxate is a chemical UV absorber, which addresses other energies on the spectrum, and octocrylene is a UV dispersant and emollient. These chemical sunscreens are different from sun-blocking, which prevent UV radiation from getting to the skin.
You will also want to avoid any nano-particle sun care as found in spray-on products. These small particles can also be washed off in the water and absorbed by the local coral and other marine animals.
8 Best sunscreens that are coral and ocean friendly
Reef Repair Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
For sun protection for the whole family, Reef Repair SPF 50+ is a perfect choice. This product offers protection for up to 80 minutes in water or on the sand. The working material in this moisturizing product is Zinc Oxide and this lotion is not sticky, so you can use it on your face as well as the rest of your body.
- moisturizing SPF 50 reef safe sunscreen
- non nano Zinc Oxide based, oxybenzone and octinoxate free
- non Sticky and non oily water based, biodegradable mineral formula
For those with bare scalps, this is an ideal product as it’s low odor as well. If your previous experience with zinc oxide products led to white streaks, you can be confident that this product will not leave you streaky.
Kokua Sun Care
If you’re looking for a natural sunscreen to protect your skin and the environment, Kokua Sun Care is a great option. This non-nano, zinc oxide based product is ideally suited for sensitive skin and those with a history or high risk of skin cancers.
- no toxic chemicals and no eye sting high-performance broad-spectrum sun lotion
- highest percentage (25%) of non-nano zinc oxide and 23 antioxidants, 7 of which sourced in Hawaii
- superior water and sweat resistant
It has a fantastic light coconut scent and goes on smoothly without leaving white streaks on your skin. To avoid a white cast, apply a light coat and let it settle on the skin. Most users find that this quality ocean friendly sun care is clear within 30 minutes of application.
Ethical Zinc Mineral Sunscreen
For UV protection sunburn prevention for the whole family, investing in Ethical Zinc Mineral sun lotion is a wonderful choice when packing up your beach essentials. This waterproof mineral sunscreen has a light french vanilla fragrance and is ideally suited to folks with sensitive skin since it contains 22% Natural Pharmaceutical Grade Zinc Oxide.
- all natural safe ingredients, suitable for sensitive skin
- PABA and Paraben free, Reef and Ocean Safe formula
- specifically designed to enhance the UVA protection, consistent protection across the UV spectrum
For those with small children this eco-friendly choice will make it simple to keep everyone covered. Like all zinc oxide reef safe sunscreen, this product goes on white and may leave a white cast if you can’t get it fully smoothed out. If you find it too dry to apply, put some light moisturizing cream on your skin first!
Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion SPF 50
The Australian Gold Botanical is a great choice for anyone who struggles to find sun care products that both prevent coral bleaching and protect you from harmful UV rays. This product is lightly tinted and has a mild citrus fragrance.
- non-chemical SPF 50 formula with Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide as active ingredients
- weightless and non-whitening lotion offers with a transparent, matte finish
- free of Oxybenzone, Parabens, PABA, Phthalate, Petroleum, SLS, Dye and Oil and not tested on animals
If you avoid sunscreen because you don’t like the white cast it can leave on your skin, this may be the best reef safe sunscreen for you and your family overall. If you need a daily sun lotion to protect your face, many find that this is an ideal product to use as a make-up base. Make sure to give it time to settle before applying any product on top of it.
SeaSpiration Tip: For the sensitive skin of the lips use lip sunblock!
If you like water sports as much as beach lounging, Thinksport is an ideal choice that is top rated by EWG. This heavy-duty sunscreen is great for athletes and for the environment since it is a non-nano zinc oxide formulation that is free of biologically harmful chemicals.
- first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements and top rated by EWG
- offers highest SPF 50 plus broad-spectrum coverage, water resistance up to 80 minutes
- applies and absorbs easily, leaves no-greasy feeling and does not have an unpleasant smell
Your time in the water and on the shore will be safer with regular applications of Thinksport. Take care to put it on 15 minutes before you head into the sun.
No matter what you’re doing, make sure to reapply every 80 minutes at the very least for optimum protection and pay attention to the tender areas, such as the behind the ears, on any unprotected scalp and along the hairline.
Blue Lizard Baby Mineral Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide
Protecting skin needs to start early, so investing in Blue Lizard Baby Mineral Sunscreen is a great choice. This product is paraben and fragrance-free, making it an ideal choice for your little one, or for anyone with sensitive skin or a strong sensitivity to fragrance.
A cool and practical feature of the Blue Lizard is the smart bottle technology that makes the bottle turn pink when the UV radiation reaches high level indicating that it’s time for sun protection!
- no chemical active ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide broad spectrum sun lotion that is ideal for baby's sensitive skin
- smart bottle technology warns of applying your sunscreen
- pediatrician recommended, trusted by dermatologists
Apply it lightly, let it settle and reapply regularly. Be aware that the label contains a beloved cartoon character; take care that your child doesn’t see this as an edible. Upon initial application, this product can be a bit tacky.
Stream2Sea Water Resistant Sport Mineral Sunscreen
When answering the question what sunscreen is safe for reefs, the list cannot be complete without Stream2Sea. This hearty, watersport friendly mineral sun lotion looks to be designed for any water activity you’re interested in! In addition to providing 80 minutes of water-resistant protection, the packaging is made from recycled plastics and sugarcane resin.
- biodegradable mineral based sport lotion, excellent for both body and face
- non greasy, paraben and oxybenzone free non-nano formula
- tested and proven safe for humans as well as freshwater and saltwater marine life
This product has also been proven safe for many forms of fish. To apply, work in a series of small dots; just a bit will go a long way. This product has a fair bit of cling and may feel tacky on first application.
All Good Baby & Kids Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
For little ones and anyone who’s particularly sensitive to fragrance, the All Good Baby & Kids Mineral Sunscreen Lotion is an ideal option. Unlike a lot of zinc products, this lotion is oily instead of pasty, so it blends well and just a bit covers a lot of skin.
- certified organic ingredients and zinc-oxide, safe for babies 6 months and older
- lightweight, not greasy formula with chamomile for gently soothing sensitive skin
- water resistant up to 80 minutes so your kids can play and swim being fully protected from the sun
For those who have darker skin tones and want to avoid the white streaks found in products that zinc oxide, consider moisturizing first before applying your sunscreen. Most users found that this reef-safe sunscreen doesn’t leave a white film on their skin and isn’t tacky upon application, so applying it won’t be a bad experience even for the little ones.
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