You know to look for a sunscreen with SPF 30 (at least), that's broad spectrum (aka protects from UVA and UVB rays), and is water-resistant...but do you know if it's reef-safe?
A 2008 European study found that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in oceans each year. The highest concentrations were found near coral reefs that are most popular with tourists. This means the sunscreen you put on before surfing, kayaking, or swimming in the ocean can wash off and remain in the ocean, causing serious damage to coral reefs and marine life.
How, exactly, are sunscreens messing with the ocean?
A 2015 study in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that the popular sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone is directly linked to coral bleaching, the top cause of coral death worldwide.
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Here’s the thing: Oxybenzone and octinoxate are super-common ingredients found in more than 3,500 sun protection products, according to NPR. They also pop up in many moisturizers, primers, and foundations that contain SPF. So it's crucial to look for a reef-friendly option.
What makes a sunscreen reef-safe?
If you're looking for a chemical sunscreen (sunscreens that sink into skin and work by absorbing UV rays and converting them to heat), any version that does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate are considered safe for ocean use.
As for mineral (aka physical) sunblocks, which are powered by the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and sit on top of your skin to deflect UV rays, look for key words like "non-nano" or "reef friendly" on the label, which means the particles aren't small enough to be absorbed by, and harm, marine life.
The 11 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens:
1. Coola Mineral Face Organic Matte Tint Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
This slightly tinted formula blends in easily without leaving behind white streaks—a hard feat for mineral sunscreens. It also contains rosehip oil—a natural form of vitamin C—to help brighten and smooth your skin's tone and texture.
2. Bare Republic Mineral Mousse SPF 30
The whipped texture of this 100 percent zinc sunscreen makes slathering it on a little less of a chore. The macadamia nut oil and natural coconut and vanilla scent will also keep you coming back for more—and not because you're supposed to be reapplying every two hours.
3. All Good Sport Sunscreen Lotion
This non-nano zinc formula will stay on in the water for up to 80 minutes without having to be reapplied. Plus, it uses organic green tea and rose hip to help repair your skin from sun damage while you wear it.
4. Alba Botanica Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF 45
This fragrance-free formula is also made with shea butter and aloe vera, making it an ideal choice for those with sensitive skin.
5. Supergoop! Play 100% Mineral Broad Spectrum Lotion SPF 50
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide make up this mineral formula along with pomegranate and perilla (it's a vegetable!) oils that help hydrate and protect your skin from environmental harm.
6. MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 50
This formula is fragrance-free, oil-free, and 100 percent mineral—perfect for acne-prone skin. Green tea, cranberry fruit, and pomegranate extracts also help protect from free radicals that can cause inflammation and wrinkles.
7. Blue Lizard Australian Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 30+
This bottle helps remind you to apply (and reapply) your sunscreen because it turns blue when harmful UV rays are present.
8. Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30
This all-zinc spray is ultra sheer so it won't weigh down your skin or take 30 minutes to blend in—ideal for kids or using it on-the-go.
9. Badger Sport Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 35
If you're looking for clean ingredients, this is the sunscreen for you. With just five ingredients in the formula—non-nano uncoated zinc oxide, organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and vitamin E—you can't get much simpler than that.
10. Beautycounter Countersun Tinted Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30
This mist sprays at any angle—yes, even upside down—so you can reach every inch of your body all by yourself. Plus, it comes in two different tints, uncommon for a mist, to help the mineral formula blend better into skin.
Maddie Aberman is the beauty editor at Women's Health and has been covering skincare, makeup, hair, and wellness for more than five years. When she's not thinking about beauty, she's dreaming of getting a puppy (all dog mom advice is welcome).
Chelsea Burns is the Beauty Director for Women’s Health and has been writing in the beauty and wellness space for over six years with her work appearing in Real Simple, Health, Fitness, and Byrdie.com. She’s an expert at testing products and is always on the hunt for the best tinted moisturizer.