• 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed) 1
  • 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed) 2
  • 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed) 3
  • 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed) 4
  • 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed) 5

10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens in 2022 (Dermatologist-Reviewed)

Swimming somewhere tropical? You'll need a reef-safe sunscreen. Statistics show that many sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm marine ecosystems, which include precious coral reefs. Luckily, rising awareness has given birth to reef-safe and reef-friendly sunscreens that won't hurt a thing!


We've done a lot of research and pored through reviews to pick the 10 best reef-safe sunscreens for reefs and our skin. Blue Lizard's Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen took first place on our list as it can effectively shield your skin from harmful UV rays while protecting coral reefs. And after you've looked at our list, our buying guide will provide you with useful information on what needs to be considered when choosing non-toxic sunscreens with research backed by a dermatologist. 

Featured in this article

Dr. Lauren Levy
mybest US Editors
  • Last updated: 09-07-2022
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Reef-Safe Sunscreen - Buying Guide

Reading ingredient labels is important, but you also need to consider a sunscreen's texture, formula, and SPF! In this buying guide, we will give you some tips and tricks to help you choose the right reef-safe sunscreen for yourself. 

Read the Ingredient Label to Make Sure It's Reef-Safe

“Reef-safe” and “Reef-friendly” aren’t terms that are regulated by the FDA, which means any brand can put these words on labels to attract consumers. These labels usually refer to sunscreens that are only free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, but they might contain other possibly harmful ingredients. So, it’s better to check the ingredient list yourself!

Avoid Active Ingredients That Bleach Reefs like Oxybenzone or Octinoxate

Avoid Active Ingredients That Bleach Reefs like Oxybenzone or Octinoxate

When choosing a reef-safe sunscreen, make sure it doesn't contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, 3-benzylidene camphor, and 4-methyl benzylidene camphor. These ingredients are indeed effective in protecting your skin from UV rays, but they can be harmful to marine life and reefs and cause coral bleaching. 


Specifically, oxybenzone is commonly found in about 70 percent of sunscreens sold in the U.S, and eight percent are made with oxtinoxate. These chemicals can damage coral DNA, reduce its lifespan, and decrease its reproduction. 


Meanwhile, 3-benzylidene camphor and 4-methyl benzylidene camphor are the other two toxic chemicals that cause coral bleaching. So check the ingredient list, and make sure your sunscreen doesn't contain any of those ingredients! 

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

The chemical blockers are the ones to stay away from to avoid damaging reefs. Look for a sunscreen that is a mineral blocker that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.


These mineral blockers are great UV blockers and can filter out both UVA and UVB rays, and are great to use on sensitive skin, eczema-prone skin, and babies and toddlers.

Triclosan and PABA Can Harm Marine Life

Triclosan and PABA Can Harm Marine Life

There are also other potentially harmful chemicals in sunscreens that you need to be aware of because they can harm marine organisms. These chemicals are ones such as triclosan, plastic microbeads, and PABA.


They don't have a negative impact only on reefs, but also on the human body! PABA might trigger allergic reactions such as stinging and burning, for instance.

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

Preservatives are generally not damaging to reefs. However, some preservatives can trigger an allergic reaction or dermatitis, which can look like a red, scaly, itchy, and burning rash. 


Your dermatologist can patch test you to see what specific ingredient you are allergic to. Avoiding these ingredients in the future will prevent rash.

Look for Broad Spectrum Protection and a Lower SPF

Look for Broad Spectrum Protection and a Lower SPF

There are two types of UV rays that can damage skin: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays cause skin problems like dark spots, wrinkles, and other signs of aging while UVB rays can cause sunburn. Sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection can help you avoid both


But when we buy sunscreens, we usually look at the SPF rating. SPF30 can block 97 percent of UV rays while SPF50 can block 98 percent of UV rays, which is only a one percent difference. Most people choose a sunscreen with a higher SPF number because they want more sun protection. 


However, more protection can mean more chemicals. If you have sensitive skin, the high amount of chemicals might cause skin irritation. The best way to protect our skin from sunlight and save reefs is to choose a lower number SPF (around SPF30) but apply it at least 30 minutes before activity and reapply it every two hours.

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

If you have fair skin or have skin conditions that are worsened by the sun, like rosacea, lupus, or melasma, you should choose a higher daily SPF, ideally 45-70. 


Also, make sure you are using a broad-spectrum sunscreen to block out UVA and UVB rays which can both make these conditions worse. Lastly, do not forget to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day!

Research Reef-Friendly Laws Ahead of Vacation in Another State or Country

Research Reef-Friendly Laws Ahead of Vacation in Another State or Country

Many island tourist attractions ban chemical sunscreens that are harmful to reefs. These islands include Key West, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Palau, Bonaire, and islands in Mexico (Cancun, Tulum, Cabo, and so on). Different laws might ban different things, so make sure your sunscreen is permitted under the law of your destination. 


Palau was the first nation to implement this law by prohibiting 10 chemical ingredients, which took effect from January 1, 2020. Anyone who violates the law by selling these prohibited sunscreens could be fined up to $1,000!


In addition, Hawaii and Key West in Florida are the first two places in the U.S. that have banned both the use and sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate as of January 1, 2021.

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

Make sure you are still taking effective sun precautions when traveling to these destinations, and bring a mineral sunscreen to protect your skin. 


Another effective way to get sun protection is to use UV protective clothing. This will allow you to get sun protection on areas that may be difficult to apply sunscreen.

Non-Nano, Mineral-Based Formulas are Safer for Reefs

Non-Nano, Mineral-Based Formulas are Safer for Reefs

Mineral sunscreens are also known as physical sunscreens. When we talk about mineral sunscreens, we usually refer to ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. However, make sure that those ingredients are "non-nano", meaning their particles are larger than 100 nanometers in size. 


Due to their large size, non-nano mineral ingredients are less likely to be ingested by marine life. As a result, they are safe for reefs and won't lead to coral bleaching. 


On top of that, they are less likely to be absorbed into the skin. So it’s popular to use this type for babies and people with sensitive skin, too!

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

The major complaint with mineral sunscreens is the white cast they leave on the skin. They can be difficult to rub and are quite thick. However, they are really effective at blocking UV rays and protecting from the sun. 


Nano mineral sunscreens are still physical blockers but made with smaller particles. They are easier to rub in and especially great for daily use on the face under makeup. Nano mineral sunscreens are also reef-safe.

Biodegradable Sunscreens Might Not Be Reef-Safe

Biodegradable Sunscreens Might Not Be Reef-Safe

Biodegradable sunscreens are friendly to the environment since they can naturally break down quickly in the environment. However, keep in mind that not all biodegradable sunscreens are safe for coral reefs. 


Sunscreen ingredients like PABA, octinoxate, and oxybenzone are biodegradable. But as mentioned in the previous section, they are not reef-friendly. So don't assume a biodegradable sunscreen as reef-friendly. Instead, read through the ingredient list to make sure it's truly reef-safe. 

Water-Resistant Sunscreen Will Last Longer, Making Them More Reef-Friendly

Water-Resistant Sunscreen Will Last Longer, Making Them More Reef-Friendly

If you will be snorkeling or diving for hours, a water-resistant formula is what you want to choose. Most work between 40-80 minutes using oils, waxes, or silicone ingredients like dimethicone, and after that, the level of sun protection will be decreased.


The less you apply your sunscreen, the better it is to reefs and ecosystems. A water-resistant formula isn’t easily washed off by water, so it will bring fewer chemicals or sunscreen ingredients into the ocean.

Spray Sunscreens Will Disperse Potentially Harmful Chemicals Into the Environment

Spray Sunscreens Will Disperse Potentially Harmful Chemicals Into the Environment

When you spray sunscreen, it usually spreads out on the sand rather than sticking to your skin. As a result, the tides will bring these chemicals to the ocean. 


Also, there's a chance that you accidentally breathe in the aerosolized particles of the spray. These particles tend to remain in the lung and cause respiratory issues like asthma


To reduce your exposure to these particles and to prevent them from getting into the ocean, we suggest you buy cream, gel, or lotion sunscreens. Plus, they’re lightweight and easy to apply by rubbing into your skin. 

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

I generally recommend avoiding spray sunscreens because the amount of sunscreen that actually gets applied on the body is less than with other forms of sunscreens due to wind, which can give a false sense of protection.


Also, in 2021, a chemical that can cause cancer called benzene was found in many spray sunscreens. While many sunscreens were recalled, be sure you are not using any sunscreens that were recalled this past year.

10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens

These 10 listed products do not contain chemical ingredients that directly harm reefs. Most ingredients are safe for our skin and can be used by everyone, even those with sensitive skin or babies. 


*Please note that these products were chosen after extensive research by mybest writers. The choices are not necessarily affiliated with or recommended by Dr. Lauren Levy.


Prices have been gathered from respective e-commerce sites on July 29th, 2022.

Image
Blue Lizard Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion  1

Blue Lizard

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion  1

Australian Gold

All Good Makes Everything Better Mineral Sport Sunscreen  1

All Good Makes Everything Better

Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen 1

Babo Botanicals

Thinksport SPF 50+ Sunscreen 1

Thinksport

MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Crème SPF 30 Sunscreen 1

MDSolarSciences

Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen 1

Kokua Sun Care

Alba Botanica Green Tea Hawaiian Sunscreen 1

Alba Botanica

Sun Bum  Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion 1

Sun Bum

Reef Repair Suncream SPF 30+ 1

Reef Repair

Name

Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion

Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion

Mineral Sport Sunscreen

Clear Zinc Sunscreen

SPF 50+ Sunscreen

Mineral Tinted Crème SPF 30 Sunscreen

Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen

Green Tea Hawaiian Sunscreen

Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion

Suncream SPF 30+

Features

Best Overall Choice for Its Smart Bottle Technology

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen With a Matte Finish for Oily Skin

Best for Soothing Inflammation Due to Sunburn

Best Gentle Sunscreen for Babies and Kids

Best Biodegradable Sunscreen for Water Sports

Best Tinted Sunscreen That's Also Reef-Safe

Best Zinc Oxide Sunscreen That Doesn't Leave Behind White Residue

Best Soothing Formula for Relieving Inflammation and Sunburn

Best for Softening and Smoothening the Skin

Best for Naturally Preventing Sun Damage

Price$9.99$35.98$13.99$15.99$11.99$24.75$29.99$8.88$26.74$15.95
Amount5 oz. 5 oz. 3 oz. 3 oz. 6 oz. 1.7 oz. 3 oz. 4 oz. 3 oz. 4 oz.
Type of sunscreenOil/water emulsionLotionCreamLotionLotionLotionLotionLotionLotionCream
SPF level30703030503050455030
Water resistanceYes (40 min.)Yes (80 min.)Yes (80 min.)Yes (80 min.) Yes (80 min.)Yes (80 min)Yes (80 min.)Yes (80 min.)Yes (80 min)Yes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsVitamin E, castor oil, dimethiconeShea butter, Kakadu plum fruit extract, red algae, glycerin, eucalyptus, vitamin E, dimethicone Aloe vera, shea butter, green tea leaf extract, calendula flower, olive fruit oil, raspberry seed oil, cocoa seed butter, coconut oil Sunflower seed oil, cocoa seed butter, coconut oil, safflower seed oil, matricaria flower extract, glycerinSunflower oil, jojoba oil, cranberry seed oil, hyaluronic acidCranberry fruit extract, green tea extract, pomegranate extractCoffee fruit extract, spirulina, plumeria, honey, kukui nut oil, macadamiaOrange peel oil, chamomile flower extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, lavender flower extract, aloe vera, green tea extractCoconut oil, cocoa seed butter, shea butter, glycerin Shea butter, avocado oil, glycerin, coconut oil, red raspberry seed oil
Link

Blue LizardSensitive Sunscreen Lotion

$9.99

Amount5 oz.
Type of sunscreenOil/water emulsion
SPF level30
Water resistanceYes (40 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsVitamin E, castor oil, dimethicone

Australian GoldBotanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion

$35.98

Amount5 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level70
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsShea butter, Kakadu plum fruit extract, red algae, glycerin, eucalyptus, vitamin E, dimethicone

All Good Makes Everything BetterMineral Sport Sunscreen

$13.99

Amount3 oz.
Type of sunscreenCream
SPF level30
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsAloe vera, shea butter, green tea leaf extract, calendula flower, olive fruit oil, raspberry seed oil, cocoa seed butter, coconut oil
Amount3 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level30
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsSunflower seed oil, cocoa seed butter, coconut oil, safflower seed oil, matricaria flower extract, glycerin
Amount6 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level50
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsSunflower oil, jojoba oil, cranberry seed oil, hyaluronic acid

MDSolarSciencesMineral Tinted Crème SPF 30 Sunscreen

$24.75

Amount1.7 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level30
Water resistanceYes (80 min)
Nourishing ingredientsCranberry fruit extract, green tea extract, pomegranate extract
Amount3 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level50
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsCoffee fruit extract, spirulina, plumeria, honey, kukui nut oil, macadamia
Amount4 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level45
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsOrange peel oil, chamomile flower extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, lavender flower extract, aloe vera, green tea extract

Sun Bum Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion

$26.74

Amount3 oz.
Type of sunscreenLotion
SPF level50
Water resistanceYes (80 min)
Nourishing ingredientsCoconut oil, cocoa seed butter, shea butter, glycerin
Amount4 oz.
Type of sunscreenCream
SPF level30
Water resistanceYes (80 min.)
Nourishing ingredientsShea butter, avocado oil, glycerin, coconut oil, red raspberry seed oil

What Can We Do to Protect Reefs?

Using non-chemical sunscreens is one of the best ways to protect reefs, but there are other little things that everyone can do to save reefs, too!

Minimize the Use of Sunscreen

Minimize the Use of Sunscreen

The ideal way is to stop using sunscreens, cosmetics, and other personal care products when you go to the beach; however, the reality is that's impossible for most people. What we can do is to find a balance point between saving the environment and protecting our skin.


First, make sure you wear UV protective clothing like long sleeve swimsuits or wetsuits in order to use less sunscreen. In addition, some accessories like hats, beach shades, and umbrellas are also a good option to protect your skin from sunlight. 

Make Your Own DIY Reef-Safe Sunscreens

It's actually not hard to make your own sunscreen! You'll only need a few simple ingredients such as coconut oil and olive oil. Here is a recipe from Bumblebee Apothecary for a reef-safe sunscreen.


Ingredients: 

  • 2 ounces coconut oil 
  • 2 ounces olive oil 
  • 2 ounces cocoa butter
  • 2 ounces beeswax
  • 2 ounces non-nano zinc oxide 

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients together and whisk over a double boiler.
  2. Once everything is melted, turn off the heat and stir well.
  3. Let the sunscreen cool down, but stir periodically to prevent the ingredients from separating.
  4. Pour the sunscreen into a dark jar and store it in a cool place away from sunlight to avoid melting.

Don’t Litter or Leave Trash on the Beach or in the Water

Don’t Litter or Leave Trash on the Beach or in the Water

According to statistics, approximately eight to 13 million tons of plastic trash are found in the ocean every year. Plastics and other trash prevent sunlight and oxygen from reaching reefs, which make them unhealthy and can cause infectious diseases. 


Some studies have found that reefs that are contaminated with tons of plastic have an 85 percent higher rate of disease than those that aren't contaminated with plastic waste! The countries that have the most plastic waste in the oceans are China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. 

If You’re Swimming Near a Reef, Don’t Touch it or Bring it Home

If You’re Swimming Near a Reef, Don’t Touch it or Bring it Home

Many people try to swim near a reef just to take a good selfie with them. Some people intend to touch the coral while others accidentally bump into them, but whatever the case, touching can kill reefs


In addition, bringing coral home without a permit is illegal! They are actually protected under domestic and international laws. 

Frequently Asked Questions

It's challenging to find a sunscreen that is reef-friendly, and you may still have some questions after reading our buying guide. We will answer one of the most frequently asked questions in this section! 

Why is reef-safe sunscreen important?

Active ingredients in physical sunscreens such as oxybenzone and octinoxate have been shown to be harmful to marine life. Particularly, those two ingredients can cause oxidative damage to the DNA of coral reefs and hinder their growth. They might even increase the rate of coral bleaching. 


Mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, when in the nano form, may be absorbed by coral reefs and cause coral bleaching as well. All of those active ingredients might also harm other sea creatures. So, to protect corals, it's important to use reef-safe sunscreen! 

Looking for Some More Sun Protection?

We get it - constantly reapplying sunscreen can be tedious. So when you want to take a break from slathering on the SPF, consider other ways of protecting yourself from UV rays!

In Collaboration With Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Lauren Levy

Dr. Lauren Levy
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Lauren Levy

This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.

Author: Apinya Masuda

Updated by: Thuy Nguyen, 11/10/2021


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    Whitening serums are essential for those who want to suppress melanin production and reduce the appearance of freckles and dark spots. However, with a wide range of products available, from brands such as HAKU, Chifure, and MUJI, to high-end brands such as Sunstar and Albion, as well as a dizzying number of active ingredients like tranexamic acid, kojic acid, and arbutin, it’s difficult to tell which ingredients are actually effective and which aren’t, as well as which products are best for sensitive skin.To determine the best whitening serums, we gathered the 48 best-selling whitening serums on e-commerce sites popular in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten, Yahoo! Shopping, and @cosme SHOPPING and tested them all.We tested each product for the following:IngredientsMoisturizing abilityFeelIn addition to our buying guide on how to choose a whitening serum, we'll also explain what you can expect from a whitening serum and answer your questions on whether or not they work on hyperpigmentation. Keep reading to find out more!
    Cosmetics and skincare
  • 9 Best Tried and True Japanese Hair Dyes in 2022 (Hair Stylist-Reviewed)
    9 Best Tried and True Japanese Hair Dyes in 2022 (Hair Stylist-Reviewed)
    Dyeing hair has been on-trend recently, but it can be expensive to do. Why not try an at-home kit instead of heading out to the salon? They're perfect for trying out different colors and getting a feel for dyeing hair in general. Japanese hair dyes, though formulated with dark, black Asian hair in mind, can also work great for other types of hair, but always make sure to conduct a patch test in case!To figure out what's best to use, we evaluated and tested 9 of the most popular hair dyes found on popular e-commerce sites in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten, and Yahoo! Shopping. We tested them based on three criteria: FinishHow long the color lastedHow it felt after dyingKeep on reading to find out which was our top pick for best Japanese hair dye!
    Cosmetics and skincare
  • 10 Best Tried and True Japanese Body Washes in 2022 (Beauty Expert-Reviewed)
    10 Best Tried and True Japanese Body Washes in 2022 (Beauty Expert-Reviewed)
    Have you ever wanted a body wash that doesn't have a strong scent? Or something that can moisturize your skin? Well, why not both? Japanese body washes are known for their gentle scents, formulas, and great feel. That's why we scoured popular e-commerce sites in Japan like Amazon, Rakuten, and Kakaku.com to find the best body washes available online. Then we purchased some of the most popular products and tested them for the following:Cleansing abilityMoisturizing abilityIngredientsFeelKeep reading to find out our 10 best Japanese body washes available online.
    Cosmetics and skincare
  • 10 Best Tried and True Japanese Toners in 2022 (Beauty Expert-Reviewed)
    10 Best Tried and True Japanese Toners in 2022 (Beauty Expert-Reviewed)
    The Japanese skincare routine has quite a few steps. There’s cleansing; then the first step after cleansing is toning. To help you ease into Japanese skincare, we ordered the 10 most popular toners from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and @cosme) and tested them all. We also invited a specialist and had her compare the following:Moisturization AbilityIngredientsFeelThis is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese toners. We also consulted our specialist about skincare–for example, we asked about how to properly put on toner and the order in which we should apply toner, lotion, and essences. We share all this information at the end of the article, so stay tuned.
    Cosmetics and skincare
  • 10 Best Korean Sunscreens for Oily Skin in 2022 (Aesthetician-Reviewed)
    10 Best Korean Sunscreens for Oily Skin in 2022 (Aesthetician-Reviewed)
    Frustrated with all the sunscreens with rich consistency that won't sink into your skin and make your skin feel even oilier than it already is? Consider using a Korean sunscreen! Most have a lightweight consistency that can absorb quickly into your skin and provide optimal protection against the sun. Besides, some even contain ingredients that can help regulate oil production to balance out your oily skin and leave it feeling much more refreshed.After combing the internet, we've found 10 Korean sunscreens that can work like a charm for your oily skin. One of them is COSRX's Aloe Soothing Sun Cream, which is formulated with aloe leaf extract to soothe and lightly moisturize the skin. There are other products that are equally effective on our list, so give them a look as well!  And check out our buying guide and additional tips from aesthetician Devan Jesmer.
    Cosmetics and skincare
  • 10 Best Liquid Lipsticks in 2022 (Makeup Artist-Reviewed)
    10 Best Liquid Lipsticks in 2022 (Makeup Artist-Reviewed)
    Tired of your beautiful lip colors transferring everywhere? If so, you may want to consider liquid lipsticks that tend to last longer than traditional lipsticks. However, not all liquid lipsticks are created equal! Some offer rich colors with long-lasting effects while others are less pigmented and dry out your lips. That's why we did our research on the best liquid lipsticks on the market to help you choose the right choice. Start with the winner in our 10 best list, Stila's Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick. It's highly pigmented, comes in a wide range of shades, and contains moisturizing ingredients to nourish your lips. For more options, check out our other recommended products on the list. And don't forget to read our buying guide reviewed by a makeup artist to know what needs to be considered before making the decision! 
    Cosmetics and skincare
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