Your Two-Second Guide to Reef-Safe Sunscreen (Yes, It Matters)


Sanchi Oberoi

ICYMI, our coral reefs are in a not-so-great place right now—as in, they’re dying at an alarmingly fast rate. And while a lot of that has to do with climate change and rising ocean temps, some of the damage also has to do with sunscreen. Yup, I’m talking about the sunscreen that you (hopefully?) slather on your face body while spending the day at the beach or swimming in the ocean. And if you’ve ever heard of something called “reef-safe” sunscreen, this probably isn’t news to you—sunscreen, while very necessary and very good for our human bodies, isn’t great for the ~ocean bodies~, so let’s talk about the SPFs that you should be using instead, k?

What sunscreen is safe for coral reefs?

Okay, so even though they may be perfectly safe for humans, certain chemicals that are commonly used in conventional sunscreen—specifically oxybenzone and octinoxate—can accumulate in coral tissue and make them sick (and yes, coral is a living thing, so it can become “sick”). When coral gets sick, it often turns white, or “bleaches,” and then dies. And not to be an alarmist or anything, but it’s estimated that up to 14,000 tons (!!!) of sunscreen with these chemicals get washed into coral reefs every year. Umm, that’s a lot of dead and dying coral.

How do I know if my sunscreen is reef safe?

TBH it’s kinda unclear. The term “reef-safe” isn’t actually regulated, so you can’t just assume any old sunscreen bottle with those words slapped on the label is actually safe for reefs (wild, I know.) That said, mineral sunscreens that use mineral or physical UV blockers, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, are considered are safer for coral reefs. And because I know you don’t have time to read every ingredient label you come across, I came up with this convenient list of the 12 best reef-safe sunscreens to try this summer. Each one uses mineral blockers to provide SPF 30 or more (the minimum amount recommend by dermatologists) and is water-resistant too.

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1

This Sport Reef Safe Sunscreen

All Good Sport Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion

Perfect for outdoor runs, beach days, and pool days, this reef-safe sunscreen (it’s made with 16 percent non-nano zinc oxide) is sweat and water resistant sunscreen for 80 minutes so you can workout and swim without the fear of getting burned—or of the reefs dying.

2

Best Lightweight Reef Safe Sunscreen

Love Sun Body Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 Fragrance-Free

This lightweight body sunscreen contains all the good stuff (like reef-friendly zinc oxide, vitamin E, and organic plant extracts) and none of the bad stuff (so zero harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrance, or ingredients tested on animals).

3

Best Sheer Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Supergoop! Mineral Sheerscreen SPF 30

Non-sticky, non-tacky, and non-whitening, this reef-safe sunscreen for face from Supergoop is as sheer and lightweight as mineral sunscreens come. It protects skin from UVA and UVB rays with SPF 30 and even shields from the harmful effects of blue light with plant extracts, all without leaving a white cast.

4

Best Smelling Reef Safe Sunscreen

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Sun Milk Body Lotion SPF 50

This reef-safe sunscreen from Hawaiian Tropic legit smells like a piña colada and I am so here for it (P.S. it’s also a Cosmo beauty award winner!). Even though I’ll likely just be swimming in the chilly Atlantic at my local beach this summer (ILU, Jersey Shore), this mineral lotion’s sweet tropical scent will be giving me dreamy Bahama vibes.

5

Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin

Kinship Self Reflect

Sure this SPF 32 lotion is ocean-friendly and reef safe, but it’s also the perfect sunscreen for oily of acne-prone skin. It’s all thanks to a blend of zinc oxide, soothing turmeric, and skin-balancing probiotics.

6

Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Without a White Cast

Unsun Mineral Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30 Medium/Dark

This Black-owned sunscreen isn’t just reef-safe and made with mineral blockers, it’s perfect for darker skin tones thanks to a sheer tint and non-whitening finish. It’s also got coconut oil and shea butter, so it has moisturizing properties too.

7

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Goddess Garden Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

Okay, so all reef-safe sunscreens are generally great for sensitive skin because they don’t contain any potentially irritating chemicals, but if you’re looking for an option to calm down redness and irritation, this is the one for you. It uses 20 percent zinc oxide (which has anti-inflammatory properties) to prevent UV damage, plus soothing aloe vera extract. 

8

Best Gentle Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Babo Botanicals Zinc Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

Another great reef safe option for anyone with sensitive skin? This hypoallergenic and fragrance-free sunscreen from Babo Botanicals. It’s free from potential skin irritants (like perfumes and dyes) and protects skin with zinc-based SPF 30. So go ahead, slather it all over your face and body—it won’t burn or sting one bit.

9

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen for Face

Bare Republic Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

This reef-safe face sunscreen is surprisingly…not sunscreen-y at all? The zinc and titanium dioxide cream protects with SPF 40 without leaving you feeling greasy, sticky, tacky, or like you’re going to break out at any minute. It’s also infused with antioxidant-rich raspberry, grape, and carrot seed oils help fight free radical damage that can lead to dark spots and wrinkles down the road. 

10

Best Natural Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Badger SPF 35 Zinc Oxide Sport Sunscreen Cream

Seriously, like, every pro surfer religiously uses this all-natural sunscreen…and for good reason: 1) It’s protects skin with non-nano zinc oxide; 2) It’s made with only five simple ingredients—all which happen to be organic, non-GMO, and biodegradable; and 3) It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Boom.

11

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen Stick

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+

amazon.com

I love this reef-safe stick sunscreen with SPF 50 from Aussie brand Blue Lizard. It makes it so easy to reapply without getting your hands messy and your face all sandy. Just rub it back and forth a few times in each area to make sure you’re getting adequate UV protection. 

12

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen Spray

Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30

Arguably the most convenient option on the list, this reef-safe, non-aerosol spray sunscreen from Beautycounter is a must for beach days. Hold it a few inches away from your skin and then liberally mist it from head to toe (literally) for water-resistant SPF 30 protection.

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