The 7 Best Reef Safe Sunscreens Reviewed
Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen
Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
Ian Fortey Updated on October 11, 2022. In Beachby
For many years sunscreen was just sunscreen or suntan lotion in most people’s minds. What we didn’t realize was that the chemicals in the sunscreen were not good for our own health and also for the environment. They built up in coral reefs and began to destroy them. Imagine millions of people on the beach, year after year, and you can start to get the picture of just how much sunscreen was ended up in the oceans causing fish and reefs to die.
Now we know what harm traditional sunscreen causes but the market is caught between what worked in the past and what’s easier to make, and doing something to save the oceans. So you can still get traditional sunscreen which is cheap and effective, all over the place. But, if you’re concerned about the effect it has on the ocean, you can also pick up some reef-friendly brands. Let’s take a look at the best reef-friendly sunscreen on the market.
1. Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
Pound for pound, I’d say the best reef-friendly sunscreen you can buy is ThinkSport. The price is reasonable for the quality and what it offers is far and away better than some of the standard, run of the mill sunscreens available on the market.
Made from non-nano zinc oxide the formula contains none of the damaging chemicals known to harm reefs or fish in the ocean. It’s ideal for both sensitive and oily skin and can handle up to 80 minutes in the water before you need to reapply.
With broad spectrum UV protection you’ll be shielded from UVA rays and UVB rays. And it’s SPF 50, making it a little stronger than many other brands, even at higher price points. The only real downside to the formula is that it’s by no means thin. This stuff comes out thick and you will need to make sure you do a good job of rubbing it in. But that just means you’re getting good protection, so no worries, right?
- Perfect EWG score
- Hypoallergenic and free from an harmful chemicals
- Water resistant
- Thick formula
- May stand out on darker skin tones
- Can be hard to wash off
2. Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen
Badger is pretty well known for making high quality and reliable products and that’s why I’m giving this one top billing. It’s just a good, premium product. But the emphasis may be on premium here as it is at a higher price point. That said, Badger more than earns the price tag with a 98% organic product that works and works well. There are just a few ingredients, nothing outlandish or weird, and the sunscreen goes on clear and even.
This product has a great rating from the EWG and the company has clearly carved a niche for itself making environmentally friendly products that are cruelty free and safe for both you and the world around you. It’s zinc oxide based so it may leave a slight white sheen on some skin types.
- Made from 98% organic ingredients
- Goes on Clear
- Just a handful of simple, plain ingredients
- May wash off too soon
- A little pricier than some
- Oil can separate from the zinc
3. Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
Blue Lizard from Australia has a lot to offer for a very reasonable price. Not only does it contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide it’s also spf 50 to provide some serious sun protection. And, for a fun bonus, the bottle itself reacts to the presence of UV rays to remind you that you need to put your sunscreen on.
You may be surprised when you first use it because, as you put it on, it’s going to look like clown make up. Don’t panic! It will dry clearer than that. However, if you have naturally dark skin there will probably still be a white cast to it which is unappealing to some people.
- Good for sensitive skin
- No harsh chemicals
- Smart bottle turns blue when exposed to UV rays
- Can be hard to wash off
- Will be visible on darker skin tones
4. All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen
All Good has a lot going for it in terms of environmental benefits. It’s cruelty free and reef friendly and made with things like coconut oil and green tea. The sun blocking effect comes from zinc oxide and not dangerous chemicals and it’s perfect for sensitive skin types.
I will say this brand tends to dry your skin out more than some others, so keep that in mind if you’re using it heavily. A good moisturizer beforehand couldn’t hurt. The formula is non-greasy otherwise and unscented, so you’ll barely notice it’s there. It’s SPF 30 so it’s a little weaker than some but not by much. If you’re in the water, I’d definitely recommend reapplying it more often than is recommended.
- Good for sensitive skin
- No harsh chemicals
- Contains things like green tea and rosehips for skin repair
- May dry out your skin
- May need more frequent reapplication than recommended
5. MDSolarscience Sunscreen
Sunscreen isn’t just a beach thing and it isn’t just for people going scuba diving or swimming. If you take a more relaxed approach to your time in the sun, MDSolarscience might be for you. This isn’t something you’d want to bring out to get the whole family ready for a day in the sun. But for personal use, something discrete and light that won’t make you look or feel greasy, this is great.
The cost is on the steeper side given how much you get, but it’s an effective product and the roll on application is really handy. You might wonder why bother with this if you’re not going to be going swimming but remember, these chemicals always end up in the water one way or another. Showering at the end of the day gets them into the water supply, so it’s good to take care even when you’re not surfing or swimming.
- Rub on stick is easy to apply
- Free from harmful chemicals and non-greasy
- Designed for every day use
- Not ideal for heavy beach use
- Small quantity for price
6. Maui Surfer Honey
Maui Surfer Honey is a great product not just if you’re looking for reef friendly sunscreen bit if you’re looking ti support local and/or American. This is made in Hawaiian using predominantly Hawaiian ingredients like aloe, jojoba oil, honey, shea butter and more. In fact, all of the natural ingredients included here come from Hawaii, so that’s pretty cool.
If you want a water resistant sunscreen because you plan on hitting the water hard for swimming, scuba and, of course, surfing, this could be the best product out there. But there is a reason for that so keep that in mind if you’re just casually sunbathing. This stuff is thick. It’s really thick. So this goes on like paste almost. If you haven’t been active in the water, you may find getting it off in the shower afterward to be a bit of a chore. But hey, that means this stuff is effective, so that’s great
- Made right in Hawaii
- Stands up to a lot of time in the water
- No nano particles
- Super thick
- Hard to get on, hard to get off
7. Kokua Sun Care
Made with zinc oxide, this is a good choice if you grew up on old style Banana Boat and miss that classic sunscreen scent. With vanilla and coconut, this will take you back in time to those beach trips when you were a kid.
At SPF 50, this is strong and reliable for sun protection. It actually has one of the highest percentages of zinc oxide you’ll find on the market at a solid 25%. Some are less than half that. In addition, it features a number of plant-born extracts right from Hawaii that serve as antioxidants to help heal and moisturize your skin including macadamia, coffee, honey and more.
As a potential downside, that high zinc rating means it’s pretty hard to hide this stuff. It can leave a white cast on your skin, especially if you have a darker skin tone. It can also be a little hard to spread as a result.
- Very high zinc oxide content
- High SPF
- Nice vanilla coconut fragrance
- Fragrance may not appeal to everyone
- Can be a little hard to spread
- Leaves a white cast on skin
Things to Remember About Reef Safe Sunscreens
Reef safe sunscreen is much more widely available today than even 10 years ago. The formulations are high quality and they work just as well as traditional sunscreen. Many of them are affordably priced so there’s no real reason not to pick them up. That said, as with any product, you need to know what you’re looking for and why. This is what you need to look for in the best reef safe sunscreens.
Why Is Reef Safe Sunscreen Important?
Older sunscreens, and many still available, use chemicals that are not found in nature. These may be the sunscreens themselves, preservatives, or other elements in the formula. You’ll find things like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and more in the ingredients. These are not good for the environment or for marine life. They may block the sun’s rays and help prevent skin cancer but there are safer sunscreen ingredients out there.
Every sunscreen tells you to reapply after swimming because it washes off. It’s just unavoidable. So every time you take a dip, all of those chemicals get into the ocean. Coral reefs absorb them and, given enough time, a lot of those chemicals build up.
What Does Unsafe Sunscreen Do to Coral Reefs?
There are a number of repercussions beyond coral bleaching from using traditional chemical sunscreens as opposed to mineral sunscreens.
- Algae: Some chemicals in sunscreens can stop algae from undergoing photosynthesis. This removes food sources from a lot of marine animals and also limits oxygen production.
- Fish: Various chemicals cause havoc with fish fertility and may even lead to female characteristics in male fish. They can damage other life forms as well, like shellfish, mussels, and sea urchins.
- Dolphins actually absorb many of these chemicals into their tissues and their offspring have been found to have them inside of them as well.
- Coral can be bleached by the chemicals in sunscreens and limit its ability to reproduce. Coral can also be killed by these chemicals.
As lovers of the outdoors, of camping and fishing and boating, we need to do what we can to preserve these places we enjoy. So using reef safe sunscreen is the responsible choice to make so that we can continue to enjoy the ocean for generations to come.
Many locations have actually banned the use of sunscreen that is not reef safe. If you’re traveling to Hawaii, Palau, Aruba, Key West and many other places you can only use reef safe sunscreen and you may get fined if you don’t.
A Note About Banana Boat and Coppertone
Few names are as recognizable as Banana Boat when it comes to sunscreen, so we had to give a shout out to this entry. Now, right off the bat, let’s address a point of controversy. This is being included because Banana Boat says right on their website that all of their products are reef-friendly. But hold up! What does that mean? They don’t use oxybenzone and octinoxate, the two most common chemicals that have proven dangerous to reefs. But they do use avobenzone in this product and that has also been included in some research as a danger to reefs.
So, why are we including this here? First, because this is an option I know a lot of people will look to because it’s well-priced and everyone knows the company. Second, because Banana Boat says specifically that their products are reef safe. Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate and other chemicals are not reef safe, even though major companies like Banana Boat, Coppertone and Sun Bum sell sunscreens that include them.
Choosing the Right Reef Safe Sunscreen
Even if a sunscreen is reef safe, you need to check out what else it can offer you so you know if it’s the right one for you. Look for ones rated by the EWG or Environmental Working Group. They check every aspect of sunscreen to ensure it’s safe for you, your family and the environment and give each brand a grade.
SPF and Protection from UV Rays
Dermatologists and cancer research groups all agree that you need a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30. The higher the number the better overall. You should also reapply the sunscreen according to the directions. If it says to reapply after two hours, you can’t wait more than two hours or you will suffer the ill effects of UV rays.
Likewise, if you have been sweating or swimming, you will need to apply your sunscreen more frequently.
The active ingredient in reef safe sunscreens is typically one of several kinds of minerals. Zinc oxide is very common but it will leave a white cast to your skin. Other ingredients to look for are titanium dioxide or mica. Mica, it’s worth noting, does have some controversy over how it’s mined. So if you are worried about ethically sourced ingredients, make sure you know where the product sources it from if you buy one with mica in it.
Most sunscreens aren’t just simple zinc oxide, they come with additives that can make it more or less desirable to you. Be on the lookout for things like colors and fragrances that have been added to the sunscreen. Some people really like a sunscreen that smells like coconut, for instance. But if that’s not your thing, always check to see if it’s fragrance free.
Moisturizers are also added to many sunscreens, things like aloe, various fruit and nut extracts and oils, and so on. These can make it a little more pleasant feeling or smell overall, if that’s something you’re concerned with.
The Bottom Line
There’s no good reason to not use reef safe sunscreen these days. You’re on the beach because you like the beach and that means you should want to keep it safe and healthy. Be wary of brands that claim to be reef friendly but still use dangerous chemicals simply because they’re not the most notorious of the bunch. More companies do it than you’d think. As always, stay safe and have fun.