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The best reef-safe sunscreens to protect your skin (and the ocean) this summer

So you’re enjoying a relaxing day by the beach and you’ve already slathered on enough SPF to render yourself 10 shades whiter.

It’s common knowledge that wearing sunscreen is not only your best defense against anti-ageing, but also against sunburn and skin cancer. We’re all for shielding our skin from damaging UV rays, but we might also be damaging the coral reefs in the process.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain two common ingredients in the product: oxybenzone and octinoxate. While they’re both commonly used UV blockers worldwide, they’ve also been deemed potentially harmful to aquatic life — most alarmingly, coral bleaching. Other ingredients like octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate have also been found to be potentially damaging to marine life.

It’s important to note, however, that there’s still no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a “reef-safe” product. The lack of government regulation means that manufacturers aren’t required to test every single product before it goes on the market.

This doesn’t mean that you should totally abandon sunscreen, Instead, proper knowledge of ingredients are key to ensuring that you leave as little chemical footprint as you can while in the ocean. Besides avoiding the ingredients mentioned above, mineral (aka physical) sunscreens with “non-nano” zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are also better alternatives for coral reef health because they sink and become part of the ocean sediment instead of dissolving in the ocean and potentially threatening marine life.

If you truly want to make a difference however, there are more reef-friendly steps you can take. Wearing clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), for example, will require lesser sunscreen to be applied while still giving you the same amount of protection.

While it’s important we do everything we can, climate change is still the number one cause for coral reef death and marine life endangerment all over the world, so making informed decisions about every purchase you make — not just sunscreens — can make a big difference.

Here are the best reef-safe sunscreens that will be kinder to the environment.

Designed to provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection while mitigating the effects of HEV light (including blue light) and pollution, this organic, oil-free formula contains the brand’s proprietary plant-derived Full Spectrum 360° Complex, and is filled with antioxidants, plant stem cells and niacinamide to promote radiant, youthful skin. The transparent non-nano zinc oxide also makes for a good base under makeup, and most importantly, has been tested to be Hawaii Reef Friendly by not containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.


This super-sheer, barely-there formula does double duty as both sunscreen and primer, and effortlessly blends into your skin without any white cast. As a fully mineral skin protector, the formula contains non-nano zinc oxide and an innovative technology that suspends the sunscreen actives in a matrix for a totally sheer finish. Besides SPF 30 protection, expect to be protected from the damaging effects of blue light.


Powered by 22 percent non-nano zinc oxide, this oxybenzone-free, broad-spectrum SPF delivers the best possible protection against UVA and UVB rays without further damaging the ocean. For those with oily skin, this one has rice starch to help keep the skin matte all day, while yellow passion fruit seed extract provides antioxidants that support skin‘s internal defense system, providing even more protection from pollution and free radical damage in the long run.


La Roche-Posay’s best known for its sunscreens, and thankfully, both of the primary filters in its Anthelios range, Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl XL, have been proven to not have a negative effect on corals. Of the lot, its Mineral Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF50 has our vote for being ultra lightweight, with a non-whitening texture that leaves a matte finish on the skin all day. The formula also contains an antioxidant-rich tropical leaf extract to help protect skin from free radicals caused by UV rays, and is water resistant for up to 40 minutes so you can dip your toes into the ocean with a peace of mind.


Formulated with 20-percent non-nano zinc oxide, antioxidant-rich algae extract, and sunflower sprout extract to provide UV and free radical damage protection, this sunscreen is a godsend for those who want a multi-tasking hero. The lightweight and sheer formula not only offers protection from environmental aggressors, but also leaves no chalky or greasy finish on your skin.


All Good’s commitment to coral reefs means that this sunscreen is just as kind to the ocean as it is to your face. The blend of zinc oxide and botanicals such as organic coconut oil, green tea, rosehip, and buriti oil nourish the skin while repairing it from sunburn and windburn. Since it’s mineral-based, you can also expect full spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

The best reef-safe sunscreens to protect your skin (and the ocean) this summer

Shatricia Nair

Managing Editor

Shatricia Nair has a passion for motoring, beauty, and wellness, and is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, retinols, and latest fitness trends. She has nine years of experience writing for digital media, and her bylines have appeared in Prestige, and Augustman. She'll do (almost) anything for good chocolate chip cookies.

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