As the days continue to get hotter, we rely on sunscreen to protect our dermis from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Lack of sun protection can result in hyperpigmentation, premature wrinkles, sun burns, and the most deadly of all, skin cancer. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that certain ingredients found in chemical sunscreens generously slathered by beachgoers may pose a threat to marine life, specifically coral reefs.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate are part of a group of active ingredients in chemical sunscreen. They protect the dermis by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays. A 2016 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology was one of the first to raise concerns about these ingredients, finding that baby coral exposed to oxybenzone exhibited signs of distress, including coral bleaching—a condition that leaves coral vulnerable to infection and prevents it from getting the nutrients it needs to survive.
Why does this matter? Coral reefs are home to 25% of marine species. Once these coral reefs die, they don’t come back. Entire reef ecosystems, on which people and wildlife depend on, deteriorate. Because of this, many popular tourist destinations, including the US Virgin Islands and Hawaii have gone on to ban specific ingredients that harm coral reefs and other ocean species.
The issue has become urgent enough that a number of companies have been manufacturing “reef-safe” formulas that promise to be less detrimental to the underwater environment. However, just because a product is labeled “reef-safe” doesn’t always mean it is. Oxybenzone and octinoxate aren’t the only ingredients contributing to coral bleaching— other potentially harmful additives include anything with benzone, microplastics (exfoliating beads), and nano-size particles, among others.
It’s also important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate whether a formula is “reel-safe,” so you should pay more attention to the ingredient list rather than the label on the packaging. Our suggestion? Shop for the simplest formulas. In other words, the smaller the ingredient list, the better. That said, unfortunately, very few sunscreens are 100 percent “reef-safe,” but if you’re going to use sun protection, at least make sure that it doesn’t contain the most toxic offenders. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the best ocean-safe sunscreens that will protect both you and the planet.
Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen
Cosmetic chemist and certified diver Autumn Blum launched her own range of biodegradable sunscreens that feature non-nano titanium dioxide coated with alumina. Blum avoided nano-size particles, and all of her formulas have passed several independent clinical ecotoxicity tests.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Gentle Mineral Sunscreen
The oxybenzone-free product is formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide broad spectrum protection. While the French cosmetics brand does not use “reef-safe” marketing terms, nor does it specify whether its main ingredients are non-nano, the company does state that it lab tests each of its face and body sunscreens to ensure they are marine-safe.
All Good Sport Sunscreen Butter
The mineral sunscreen is free of oxybenzone and uses non-nano zinc oxide and five simple organic ingredients to provide SPF protection. It comes in a convenient tin that fits easily in a pocket, purse, or backpack for those who wish to travel light.
Mama Kuleana Reef-Safe Sunscreen
In the summer of 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the US to ban sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. This move led to the emergence of several local, ocean-friendly sunscreen brands, including Mama Kuleana. The small batch of shea butter and coconut oil-based sunscreen comes in a biodegradable container and delivers sun protection for 40-minutes.
Badger Active Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 30
The GMO-free formula might be made with just 5 simple ingredients, but it packs a punch. Using non-nano zinc oxide, the sunscreen has an SPF 30 rating, meaning it blocks 97% of UV radiation. The product has also run through several lab tests to verify the absence of all harmful chemicals on the HEL list, earning this product a certification seal from Land + Sea that assures consumers it’s free from environmental pollutants.
Hello Sunday The One That’s Got It All Full Shield Face Primer SPF 50
The team behind Hello Sunday set out to create a range of products that are clean and effacious. Combining skincare and suncare, each moisturizer, primer, serum, and lotion is oxybenzone and octinoxate free, cruelty-free, and sustainable with a 100 percent vegan ingredient list.