More than 14,000 tons of sunscreens wash off swimmers, paddlers, snorkelers, surfers and other watermen and waterwomen into the oceans each year. If you care about coral reefs, read your sunscreen’s ingredients label to ensure you’re not poisoning yourself and the environment in the quest to avoid sunburn.
Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems – do your part by wearing environmentally friendly sunscreen © Sven Hansche / Shutterstock
Most of us have been educated from an early age on the dangers of sun exposure, and we cover any exposed skin with a thick layer of sunscreen before we venture out. What most of us don’t know is that when we dive in the water, the chemicals found in most sunscreens kill coral, cause deformities in fish and bioaccumulate in the environment, eventually ending up in the human food chain.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between sunburn and healthy coral reefs. There are alternatives to coral-killing sun block if you’re willing to read a label or two. Avoid Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, Parabens, Triclosan, and any nanoparticles or 'nano-sized' zinc or titanium. The only truly reef-friendly active ingredients are non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide.
Sadly, you can't rely exclusively on manufacturer claims. Picking a sunscreen that says 'reef-safe' or 'reef-friendly' on the package isn’t good enough, as those terms aren’t regulated, according to the Surfrider Foundation. Only reading the label closely will point you in the right direction.
Picking a reef safe sunscreen is not just good for reefs – and in some cases required by law – but it’s better for your health too. Caroline Duell, Founder and CEO of sunscreen manufacturer All Good, says, 'All chemical UV absorbers are damaging to the DNA and endocrine systems of coral. Coral are animals. Humans are animals, and studies are now linking damage seen in coral to human systems as well. Even if you’re worried about your kids’ health more than the environment, reef safe sunscreen is a must.'
Protect the kiddos with environmentally friendly sunscreen © Loving Naturals
Best for kids
Made with non-nano zinc, this ultra natural, stick-style sunscreen uses hydrating, skin-smoothing organic oils and butters, including grape seed oil, sunflower oil, beeswax, cocoa butter and shea butter. It rubs in clear, and it gets the best health rating of any sunscreen from Environmental Working Group, a US-based watchdog for personal care products like sunscreen, makeup and shampoo. Because it's a stick, it's best for face and neck on kids and adults.
Choose a spray sunscreen that won't harm the environment © All Good
Best for body
This non-nano, zinc oxide-based sunscreen is lightweight water-resistant formula enriched with skin-repairing organic green tea, rose hips and buriti oil. Most spray sunscreens aren’t reef-friendly because atomized chemical ingredients get in the air where you can inhale them, and extra sunscreen can blow into the water. This air-powered dispenser squirts a jet of sunscreen onto your skin and spreads easily. If you're not checking a bag, opt for the same sunscreen in an airline-friendly tube.
Many tinted moisturizers contain chemical sunscreens – try Beauty by Earth instead © Beauty by Earth
Best tinted sunscreen
Non-nano zinc oxide gives this sunscreen SPF 20 to keeps the sun's skin-damaging sun rays at bay, not just on beach days but every day. It’s tinted with non-toxic yellow, red and black iron oxides in two skin tones, so it does double duty as a functions and a sunscreen.
Put your best reef-safe face forward with this facial sunscreen © REN
Best for face
You won’t feel greasy or shiny wearing this SPF 30 facial sunscreen. The active ingredient, zinc oxide, provides the physical shield to block and reflect UVA, UVB and blue light rays that cause aging and skin spots. Antioxidant yellow passion fruit seed extract supports your skin in resisting pollution and free radical damage. And soothing rice starch keeps the finish matte by absorbing oils and shrinking pores.
Don't forget to protect your lips! Try Badger Lip Balm as a reef-safe option © Badger Balm
Best for lips
With 97% organic ingredients and no added fragrance, Badger blends shea and coconut butter with extra virgin olive oil and beeswax to make its SPF 15 moisturizing lip balm. It goes on white, but rubs to clear, and it’s as good before and after sun exposure as during.