The 7 Best Reef Safe Sunscreens Reviewed
Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen
Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
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.
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.