Is sunscreen part of your everyday skincare routine? If it’s not, maybe it’s time to consider adding it to your morning repertoire. While conventional sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all, I personally prefer using sunscreen brands that aren’t loaded with questionable ingredients, are reef-safe, and whenever possible, packaged in eco-friendly materials.
Ready to make sunscreen a part of your daily routine? Below I’ve included a list of non-toxic and reef-safe sunscreen brands you might consider trying out.
But first, a few facts.
Why opt for reef-safe sunscreen?
It is estimated that every year, anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 tons (!) of sunscreen washes into our oceans and deposits in coral reef areas, with the greatest damage found in popular reef areas in Hawaii and the Caribbean. According to Be Reef Safe, it is estimated that more than 60% of the world’s coral reefs are at risk. Note: If you’re not sure why coral reefs are important, here’s a great link with some quick information: Value of Corals | Coral Reef Systems. They provide so much life and importance to mankind that they’re often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea.”
There are numerous reasons as to why our coral reefs are being threatened — climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, disease, and invasive species. So please note, I am not advocating that reef-safe sunscreen is the one and only solution to saving our reefs (more on that in future post).
But, as shares the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, scientists have discovered that certain chemical ingredients found in our sunscreen products are also harming the coral on our reefs. 1 “Researchers testing the effects of sunscreen on corals,” reports the National Park Service, explain that chemicals in sunscreen, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, “can awaken coral viruses. The coral then becomes sick and expel their life-giving algae. Without these algae, the coral “bleaches” (turns white), and often dies.”
A separate study, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, shares TIME Magazine, also “found that the chemical oxybenzone has toxic effects on young coral that causes endocrine disruption, DNA damage and death of coral, and other problems.“2
Unfortunately, sunscreen chemicals have also been found to adversely affect other marine life. These chemicals impair the growth and photosynthesis of green algae. They can induce defects in young mussels and can damage the immune and reproductive systems of sea urchins. They can decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish. And in dolphins these chemicals can accumulate in their tissue and be transferred to young. 3
In short, coral reefs are at risk. And, while there is no one single solution when it comes to protecting them, using reef-safe sunscreen, i.e. purchasing sunscreens that are free of harmful chemical ingredients such as those listed below, is one simple way you can help protect coral reefs and aquatic life.
Toxic Chemicals You Want To Avoid In Sunscreen
The worst of the bunch…
- Oxybenzone and octinoxate. Hawaii has banned these two ingredients because of their harmful effects on the coral reef, specifically they cause bleaching. These chemicals, shares TIME Magazine, “have toxic effects on young coral that causes endocrine disruption, DNA damage, and death of coral. Oxybenzone also exacerbates coral bleaching, a process by which coral reject symbiotic organisms and lose their color.” Bleaching has been particularly prevalent in recent years due to rising sea temperatures. Not to mention this ingredient has been linked to disrupting hormonal activity in humans as well, i.e. the reproductive system and thyroid health.
Good news! As of January 1, 2021, Senate Bill 2571, which bans the sale and distribution of sunscreens made with ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate went into full effect in Hawaii.
- Any form of microplastic sphere or beads. Just like you wouldn’t want these in your facial exfoliator, you don’t want them in your sunscreen!
- Nano-Titanium Dioxide. While more research on nanoparticles needs to be conducted, there have been studies finding that nanoparticles, specifically those found in aerosols can potentially cause lung damage when inhaled and, when sprayed, can end up on the sand eventually making its way into our oceans.
- NOTE: Minerals in a sunscreen must be considered “non-nano” (meaning bigger than 100 nanometers) in order to be considered safe for the ocean. If they are below 100 nanometers, the particles can be absorbed by corals.
Non-Toxic & Reef-Safe Sunscreen Brands
All-natural mineral sunscreen offering broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 30). Made for the little ones in your life.
Eco Highlights: EWG Verified. Natural Ingredients. 100% Ingredient Transparency. Packaging made from recycled plastic. Supporter of Baby2Baby, a humanitarian organization providing children living in poverty with diapers, clothing and the basic necessities every child deserves. Leaping Bunny Verified.
All Good sunscreens are reef-safe and made of natural ingredients, including non-nanoparticles zinc oxide. Sunscreens range from SPF 30-SPF 50 and offer a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
Eco Highlights: Certified Organic by USDA. Leaping Bunny Certified. Reef Friendly. 100% Ingredient Transparency.
AO Organics Hawaii Sunscreen stick is made using organic and reef-safe ingredients. Packaged using eco-friendly materials and handmade in small batches. Sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 30).
Eco Highlights: Handmade in small batches. Woman & Native Hawaiian Owned. Ethically Sourced Ingredients. Eco-friendly packaging. Reef Safe.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate free, this reef-safe mineral based sunscreen is made using non-nano zinc oxide and provides high UVB/UVA protection (SPF 30-50). In addition, a percentage of Babo Botanical’s proceeds go towards teaching and developing urban gardens for children.
Eco Highlights: Certified Organic & Natural Ingredients. 100% Ingredient Transparency. B-Corp Certified. Donates to environmental organizations.
100% reef safe formula made using non-nano zinc oxide. Packaged in a reusable or recyclable plastic-free tin. SPF 50.
Eco Highlights: Uses biodegradable, natural, and cruelty-free ingredients. Reef Safe. Recyclable Packaging + Plastic-Free whenever possible.
Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian sunscreens are reef-safe and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Made using non-nano zinc oxide, this sunscreen brand is free of phthalates, artificial fragrance, and made using ingredients native to Hawaii. Sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB skin protection (SPF 50).
Eco Highlights: Reef-Safe. Natural Ingredients native to Hawaii. FDA compliance.
Natural and organic sunscreen made from locally sourced natural ingredients. This reef-safe sunscreen is made using non-nano zinc oxide and free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. Sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 35-40).
Eco Highlights: Locally made in Hawaii. Plastic-Free. Approved by the FDA. Natural Ingredients.
This reef-safe sunscreen brand is packaged in 100% plastic-free and biodegradable material. Sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 30).
Eco Highlights: Plastic-Free. Compostable Packaging. Reef-Safe. Natural Ingredients. Small Business.
Manda Naturals mineral-based sunscreen uses the highest quality, all natural ingredients. Free of harmful chemicals this sunscreen brand is reef-safe and kid-safe. What makes this brand unique is its use of the ingredient, Thanaka. Thanaka, a sustainable and regenerative ingredient, is made from the wood of a tree native to Myanmar which, according to their website, “has been used for over 2000 years as a natural sun protectant that preserves and beautifies the skin.” Their products are all packaged in eco-friendly materials and use non-nano zinc oxide (SPF 40 -SPF 50).
Eco Highlights: Eco-Friendly & Low-Waste Packaging. Reef-Safe. Organic Ingredients.
Olita sunscreen is 100% made in the USA and uses organic, natural, high performing ingredients. Olita also gives back 10% of all their sales to the Coral Reef Alliance, a non-profit organization helping to save the world’s coral reefs by working collaboratively with communities, conservationists and scientists. Their sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 30-SPF 50).
Eco Highlights: Woman-Owned. Reef-Safe. Natural Ingredients. Ingredient Transparency. Donates to the Coral Reef Alliance.
Raw Elements is EWG certified, reef-safe, titanium dioxide free and made using certified natural and organic ingredients. Products are packaged in recyclable materials, compostable paperboard, bio-based materials and infinitely recyclable aluminum packaging. In 2019 Raw Elements, founded World Reef Day – a call to action to consumers, businesses and organizations around the world to reflect on the delicate ecosystem of our ocean’s coral reefs and make simple changes to protect them. Raw Elements sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays (SPF 30).
Eco Highlights: Non-GMO Project Approved. Natural Products Association Certified. Made in USA. Leaping Bunny Certified. EWG #1 Rated. Organic Ingredients. Eco-Friendly Packaging. Reef-Safe. 1% for the Planet. Founded World Reef Day.
SunTegrity products are reef-safe made using non-nano size zinc oxide and high quality natural and non-toxic ingredients. This skincare brand was awarded “Champion” Status by the EWG/Compact for Safe Cosmetics and meets the new FDA’s Broad Spectrum SPF 30 labeling requirements.
Eco Highlights: Reef-Safe. Free of harmful ingredients. #1 rating by the EWG. Cruelty-Free.
This natural, antioxidant-rich sunscreen brand creates products that both nourish & protect your skin without harming the ecosystem. Free of harmful chemicals and made using non-nano zinc oxide, Surf Durt sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB skin protection (SPF 30) and is packaged in reusable bamboo containers lined with an aluminum interior lining. In addition, a portion of proceeds are donated to environmental and social non-profit organizations such as Water For People, Coral Gardeners, and Trees for The Future.
Eco Highlights: Natural and Organic Ingredients. Reef-Safe. Zero-Waste Packaging. Supports charitable organizations. Woman-Owned.
To date, Stream2Sea is the only mineral based sunscreen on the planet that’s been tested and proven safe for freshwater fish, saltwater fish, and coral larvae, and has passed the stringent HEL Labs Protect Land + Sea certification. All their products are free of harmful ingredients, reef-safe, and packaged in eco-friendly materials such sugarcane resins, recycled milk jugs, and biodegradable and recyclable PLA film. Their sunscreen provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF 20-SPF 30).
Eco Highlights: HEL Labs Protect Land + Sea Certified. Eco-Friendly Packaging. Non-Toxic. Reef-Safe. Fragrance-Free.
A few more brands:
- Badger: Reef-Safe Sunscreen
- Olenskincare SunBlocz Baby + Kids
- Raw Love Sunscreen
- Sconset Sunscreen
After reading about the potential risks of sunscreen, please don’t stop using it! Just be informed about the sunscreen you’re using.
- Opt for mineral sunblocks with zinc oxide. This mineral not only helps to block the sun’s rays by reflecting it away from the skin but has also not been found to harm reefs.
- If you’re not sure how reef safe your current sunscreen is, check out EWG’s sunscreen directory.
- Make sure your sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
Additional Sun Protection
- Wear protective clothing: Long sleeved shirts, pants, and long skirts will provide the most amount of protection. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), dark colors provide more protection than light colors. Also, if you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Tip: Look for clothing that protects against UV rays.
- Make or find shade: Umbrellas (parasols) work wonders. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association – Dermatology, “Heavy, dark, opaque fabric blocks more UV rays than thin, sheer fabric, and the larger the umbrella, the more rays it can block. A study by dermatologists at Emory University in Atlanta found that standard rain umbrellas can block at least 77 percent of UV light.”
- Wear sun hats: Sun hats are always a good idea and some are designed specifically with UVA /UVB rays in mind.
- Limit your time in the sun: If possible, try to limit the time in the sun – especially between the hours of 10 AM – 2PM, when the sun is strongest.
- Wear sunglasses: More than just a fashion statement, sunglasses help to protect your eyes from harsh UV rays. Also, choose sunglasses that block both UVA & UVB light.
- Wear Sunscreen: It’s important to note that sunscreen is just a filter – it does not block all UV rays, shares the ACS. For instance, “a higher SPF number means more UVB protection (although it says nothing about UVA protection). SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%.”
- Check the UV-Index: The UV index gives you an idea of how strong the UV light is in your area — scale ranges from 1 to 11+. A higher number means greater risk of exposure to UV rays and a higher chance of sunburn and skin damage. Find out your local UV Index forecast on the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/sunsafety/uv-index-1
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Post written in collaboration with Susan Farley.