7 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens to Protect Your Skin and the Ocean
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Whether you live on the beach or in a landlocked city, all water eventually makes its way to the ocean, which is why it’s so important to use reef-safe sunscreen. Traditional sunscreens can be toxic both to your body and to our important ocean environments, but there are plenty of safe options available.
At its most basic, reef-safe sunscreen is sunscreen that only uses mineral-based UV-blocking ingredients. However, there’s no regulation on using the term “reef-safe,” so it’s important to thoroughly vet the ingredients of any product you’re considering purchasing.
To save you some time and effort, we’ve done the research for you, and in this article, we’ll break down the six best reef-safe sunscreens on the market today.
Why Switch to Reef-Safe Sunscreen?
Some places, like Hawaii, have banned many reef-harming sunscreens, but most Americans still have the choice to stick with traditional sunblocks or go the ocean-friendly route. Why switch to reef-safe sunscreen? There are a number of reasons, including:
- According to National Geographic, there are as many as 82,000 kinds of chemicals from personal care products (including sunscreen) in the ocean, and in 2015 alone, around 14,000 tons of sunscreen ended up on coral reefs globally.
- Even if you aren’t near the ocean, when you shower after applying sunscreen, much of it goes down the drain, entering the wastewater stream and eventually ending up in the sea.
- Ingredients found in commercially made sunscreens such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, nano titanium dioxide and nano zinc oxide are toxic not only for reefs, but also for sea urchins, fish, marine mammals and other ocean creatures.
- Oxybenzone can be absorbed by humans and has even shown up in urine and breast milk.
The 7 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens
Now that you’ve got a few reasons to choose an ocean-friendly sunblock over an ocean-polluting one, here are our recommendations for the best reef-safe sunscreens on the market.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
- Best Tinted Sunscreen: Olita Tinted Mineral Sunstick
- Best Organic Sunscreen: Badger Clear Zinc SPF 40 Sunscreen
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen Lotion
- Best for Kids: Earth Mama Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
- Best for Activity: Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen
- Best Face Sunscreen: REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen
Best Overall: Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen is our overall first choice for reef-safe sunscreen. Once applied, the full-spectrum protection begins instantly and the formula won’t leave your skin feeling greasy or sticky. This sunscreen has the highest water resistance per the FDA and can offer protection in water for up to 80 minutes, after which it should be reapplied.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 3,800 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This sunscreen doesn’t contain any parabens, phthalates, BPA, oxybenzone, avobenzone, petroleum, gluten, dairy or toxic chemicals. Its one active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, and it is not tested on animals.
Best Tinted Sunscreen: Olita Tinted Mineral Sunstick
If you’re worried about mineral sunscreen leaving a white sheen on your face, we recommend trying Olita’s Tinted Mineral Sunstick. The SPF 30 formula comes in two shades — Coco Bronze and Light Tan — and its compact size makes it easy to toss in your beach bag or makeup bag. Its made with moisturizing ingredients like shea butter and aloe and is free of chemicals or fragrances.
Customer Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars with about 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Olita’s tinted sunscreen goes on like a foundation and lasts about two hours before reapplication is needed. All of the company’s products are verified by the Environmental Working Group, and Olita donates 10% of all sales to the Coral Reef Alliance to further reef protection.
Best Organic Sunscreen: Badger Clear Zinc SPF 40 Sunscreen
Another product we love is Badger Clear Zinc SPF 40 Sunscreen. This reef-safe, broad-spectrum formula only has four ingredients: zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax and vitamin E. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is fragrance-free.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with about 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This sunscreen is SPF 40 and doesn’t use any fragrances, allergens, GMOs, parabens, dyes or artificial ingredients. Badger is a women-run B Corporation, and its sunscreen lotions meet the strict safety guidelines of the Environmental Working Group and Protect Land + Sea.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen Lotion
The SPF 30 formulation of Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen is made for people with very sensitive skin. It uses a 100% non-nano zinc and mineral-based formula that has an 80-minute water resistance before needing to be reapplied. It also includes natural ingredients like soothing organic sunflower oil, jojoba oil, shea butter and avocado.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 1,400 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Babo Botanicals is a certified B Corp. Its sunscreen doesn’t contain any added fragrances and is a PETA-certified cruelty-free product. It’s also approved by the Environment Working Group.
Best for Kids: Earth Mama Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
This SPF 40 water-resistant product is pediatrician- and dermatologist-tested for irritants, making it a good choice for children. Earth Mama sunscreen is made from a non-nano zinc formula that sits on top of the skin instead of absorbing into the skin, so it can effectively deflect UV rays and offer maximum sun protection.
Customer Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars with over 450 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Earth Mama’s kid-friendly sunscreen doesn’t use chemicals or artificial fragrances. Using natural ingredients like shea butter and organic colloidal oatmeal helps kids who may get rashes on their skin. It is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes and has UVA/UVB protection.
Best for Activity: Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen
Unlike typical chemical sunscreens, Stream2Sea uses organic, mineral-based ingredients to shield against UV rays. It sits on your skin rather than being absorbed into your pores, so it’s safer for your health while also being safe for marine life. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and holds up to sweat, so it’s great for outdoor activities.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 440 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This sunscreen’s formula is eco-conscious and is free of parabens and sulfates. The packaging is also environmentally friendly, as it’s made from sugarcane resin and recycled plastic milk jugs.
Best Face Sunscreen: REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen
This mattifying sunscreen is made with 22% non-nano, naturally derived zinc oxide for broad-spectrum UVA, UVB and blue-light protection. Its mattifying effect helps to reduce the visibility of pores, making it great for everyday use.
Customer Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars with over 180 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is silicone-free, cruelty-free and vegan. The packaging is made with recycled plastic and can be recycled again when the tube is empty. It uses ingredients such as yellow passionfruit and rice extract and is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores.
FAQ: Reef-Safe Sunscreen
Which sunscreen is safe for coral reefs?
How do I know if sunscreen is reef safe?
The claim “reef-safe” is not regulated, so the only way to know if a sunscreen is safe for coral reefs is to check the ingredients list for yourself.
What sunscreen ingredients are not reef safe?
According to Save the Reef, when looking for reef-safe sunscreen products, the ingredients you should avoid include: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, homosalate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, parabens and triclosan. Additionally, avoid any forms of microplastics, like “exfoliating beads” as well as nanoparticles of zinc or titanium.
Do I need to wear reef-safe sunscreen?
You should wear sunscreen every day to protect your skin and help prevent skin cancer. Whether it’s reef-friendly sunscreen is up to you, but we highly recommend it for both your own health and the health of the ocean ecosystem.