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The Best Reef Safe Sunscreens Today

Are you using reef safe sunscreen? The topic can be undoubtedly confusing — many surfers and beachgoers alike don't realize that not all sunscreen is created equal.


Some chemicals in sunscreen can harm you — and the ecosystem.


In this article, we'll break down reef-safe sunscreen, and the best reef safe sunscreen options for you to use now and in the future.

Why Use Reef Safe Sunscreen?


Sunscreen has come far since the importance of protecting one’s skin from UV (ultra-violet, denoting their place on the light spectrum) rays become prevalent in the mid-20th century.


We know now that harmful chemical sunscreens don’t just stay on top of the skin...they’re absorbed into the bloodstream, where chemicals should generally not be.


We know now that aerosols from spray-on options lead to damage in the ozone layer...and more intense UV rays.


And we now know about the connection between the main ingredient of chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, and reef bleaching and death...leading to an unbalanced and unhealthy aquatic ecosystem.


Because oxybenzone was also found to lower sperm count, alter breast milk, and exacerbate the development of breast cancer, laws banning oxybenzone sunscreens finally started getting passed in coastal states like Florida and Hawaii in 2017 and 2018.


Armed with this healthy knowledge, a plethora of reef-safe sunscreen options are now available that are more enjoyable than the thick pure Zinc of the 80s.


Next, we'll look at five of the best reef safe sunscreen options on the market today that in the short term can keep you from getting sunburned and in the long term, don't harm you or the ecosystem.


The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Today


Tropic Sport

Tropic Sport is a small company originally developed in Australia before solidifying its US market in Hawaii with the help of pro surfer and vlogger Jamie O’Brien.


Its Down Under roots led this reef-safe sunscreen to be held to Australian sun protection standards, specifically its effectiveness and length of protection while remaining in the water — four hours between applications as opposed to the US standard of 90 minutes.


Being a mineral sunscreen that utilizes reef and human-friendly zinc oxide and titanium oxide, it stays on top of the skin to block harmful rays without entering the wearer’s bloodstream.


The company also revamped its blue-and-white packaging from the plastic bottles of four years ago to aluminum tubes that can be recycled infinitely more times than plastic, which can only go through 2-3 recycles.


Though it’s white like zinc, Tropic Sport’s cream blends better, helping you enjoy a session as yourself, not Casper the Friendly Ghost — unless you don’t mind that and prefer butter protection, because they have a stick for that.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


All Good

All Good is exactly what it sounds like: it’s all good.


With a complete line of protective lip balms and reef-safe sunscreens for water people of all ages, this small business born on California’s Central Coast will protect the human and reef alike through truly enjoyable methods.


Are you one of those surfers that prefer a nice tin of sunscreen butter over lotion?


They’ve got you covered.


The many lip balm scents and the mineral sunscreen for adults and children all smell delightful and blend in fully to protect your skin and your image equally (even including a tinted option, though you’ll want to avoid possibly staining white things with it).


My favorite is the spray-on option that works perfectly for those hard-to-reach spots that are completely devoid of aerosols — it’s just pure air, much like the breath of fresh air that is this women-owned, no-testing-on-animals, reef-safe sunscreen.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.



Another reef safe sunscreen option: Sun Bum.


Sun Bum has been killing the sunscreen marketing game for years: that adorable name, the super-chill gorilla logo you’d totally be down to be seen at popular beaches with over the Coppertone baby butt, and some high-quality promotion from the likes of Strider Wasilewski.


While it’s a great sunscreen that is oxybenzone-free, you need to be careful when selecting which Sun Bum product you’ll be taking to the beach because only the specifically-marked reef-safe sunscreen out of Sun Bum’s many offerings lacks oxytinocate, which is just as harmful to reefs as oxybenzone.


So look for the packaging that resembles wood grain with yellow accents and double-check for that oxytinocate-free marker alongside the excellent Sun Bum-wide tags of being hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, and gluten-free.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Everyday California

Everyday California is a San Diego-based outdoor lifestyle brand that sells a wide variety of useful and sustainable products (like board shorts made from recycled plastic bottles!), but their reef-safe sunscreen is right up there with the best of them.


This broad-spectrum reef safe mineral sunscreen option is cruelty-free, and with blue algae and sea kelp extracts, it’s uniquely hydrating while protecting you from sunburns.


Its effectiveness in water exceeds the national requirement with re-application suggested every 2 hours, and their spray-on option is also aerosol-free.

In addition to containing zero oxytocin and oxybenzone, this reef safe sunscreen has no phenoxyethenol, parabens, or scent (even though rosemary, sunflower, and jojoba extracts are part of their hydrating formula).


The lotion and spray do go on white, but if you agree that enjoying the great outdoors in a way that’s safe for you and the environment is well worth looking like you’re rocking some proper zinc, look for the bear carrying a surfboard.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Manda Naturals

The thing about reef-safe sunscreen is that zinc oxide is the main ingredient that allows for sun protection that doesn’t destroy the reef or affect the human body negatively, and zinc can be a bit thick when it’s only added to natural ingredients.


Luckily, the majority of surfers don’t mind some visible sun protection if it is in the interest of a healthy ocean, and Encinitas-based all-natural Manda sun care offers not just a less ghostly tinted organic sun-paste, but tinted sun-paste in three different shades for varying skin tones.


Game changer in not only protecting the skin in you’re in, but also feeling like the protection was made for your beautiful individual self.


Also, enjoy gazing upon that beautiful self with the super handy mirror under the lid of the sun-paste tins for easy application (brilliant).


The pastes will also show love to your skin with the coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter in them, and Manda’s less-thick sun cream and nurturing paw-paw salve help keep the biggest organ of the human body healthy and safe.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Badger

Badger has created a simple and efficient reef-safe sunscreen that only contains 5 ingredients. These ingredients include zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax, sunflower vitamin E extract, and organic sea buckthorn extract. With the inclusion of zinc oxide, this sunscreen is guaranteed to battle against UV rays, while still protecting our ocean’s reefs.


The active cream sunscreen is promised to apply smoothly, and rub in clear, so that it leaves no remaining residue. It also is said to be water resistant for up to 40 minutes. So, while this product may be great for a beach day when you can easily reapply, you may want to opt for a more lasting sunscreen if you are going out for a longer surf session.

Despite this, for $17.99, you are being provided with a hypoallergenic and gluten free sunscreen that will sufficiently battle against the harm being done to coral reefs.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.

Raw Elements


Raw Elements is an environmentally aware company which was created by a lifeguard who was dedicated to cultivating change and improvements in today's world.


One thing that sets Raw Elements apart from other brands is that it's only active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide. This means that not only is it completely safe for human use/ consumption, but it also has no additional chemicals that could potentially harm reefs.


As stated on their website, Raw Elements sunscreen is completely sweat and water resistant to the point where you could apply it while underwater. So, say goodbye to those sunscreens that drip down your face and sting your eyes.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Stream2Sea

Stream2Sea was created by founder Autumn Blum, when she went on a dive and witnessed first hand the effects that most sunscreens have on our earth's coral reefs. From then, she went on to create a mineral based sunscreen that has passed the stringent HEL Labs Protect Land and Sea certification.


This sunscreen works best for up to 80 minutes without reapplication. Although this doesn’t sound like a substantial amount of time, many other reef safe products require reapplications after just 30-40 minutes.


Beyond all this, Stream2Sea ships environmentally conscious, so it not simply benefitting out reefs at the cost of other environmental factors.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Coral Safe

Coral Safe is a company with many options including face sticks, balm, sheer spray, and lotions. All these products are reef-safe, fragrance free, and TSA-friendly.


The two main ingredients in Coral Safe’s sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Both these ingredients are non-chemical based, biodegradable, and micronized. Micronized particles allow for smooth applications that still stay on the surface of your skin.

Although all these features seem expensive, almost all of their products range around $10, making them one of the cheapest products on the market today.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.


Vetra


Vetra was created by a group of Honolulu surfers who were met first hand with the impacts that chemical-based sunscreens could have on their reefs. In response, they created face sticks which not only were completely reef-safe, but they also protected against UV rays very effectively.


Now, the company has expanded to include products for both your face and your body. Vetra’s face products include multiple different shades, to better fit various skin tones and make you feel more confident.

This company partners with signature athletes such as Mick Fanning, Shane Dorian, and Brisa Hennesey to create some of the best products for all surfers today.


Learn more about this reef-safe sunscreen option.



Reef Safe Sunscreen Frequently Asked Questions


Next, we'll take a look at the most commonly asked questions associated with reef-safe sunscreen.


Q. How can you tell if sunscreen is reef-safe?

Even if sunscreen is labeled reef-safe, there is a good chance that it actually is not.


Unfortunately, this phrase isn’t checked, so many companies slap it on their product to make it sound better.


A great way to see if a sunscreen is actually reef-safe is by checking its ingredients.



Here are some ingredients that aren’t reef-safe:

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octinoxate

  • Octocrylene

  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor

  • PABA

  • Parabens

  • Triclosan

Q. What Sunscreen is not reef safe?

Any sunscreen that is chemical-based can be harmful to coral reefs and marine life.


Some commonly used sunscreen that is not reef safe includes Banana Boat, Neutrogena, and Coppertone.


While all these products are efficient at protecting from UV rays, they are chemical-based and have negative repercussions with their use.


Q. What does reef-safe sunscreen mean?

Sunscreens that are coined reef-safe most likely steer away from harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.


These two chemicals are very commonly used in sunscreens, but have been tested and proven to cause coral bleaching.


The Bottom Line: Reef Safe Sunscreen


The uplifting response to the harm caused by chemical sunscreens to both humans and reefs is only growing as more laws and products support a healthier aquatic ecosystem for our future.


Now it’s up to all of us, from the occasional beachgoer to the avid dawn patrol surfer, to support this wave of change by avoiding all sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and oxytocin in favor of those reef-safe sunscreens containing minerals like zinc and titanium oxide until these options become the primary options that come to mind when we’re looking to protect our skin.


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