The Best Biodegradable Sunscreen – 9 Brands You Need to Know

Best Biodegradable Sunscreen

The sunscreen you use impacts the environment, even if you don't go to the beach! 

70% of sunscreens on the U.S. market contain harsh chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals can damage or kill coral reefs, causing irrevocable harm to marine life. 

Popular vacation destinations, such as Cozumel, Mexico, the US Virgin Islands, and Hawaii, have banned non-biodegradable sunscreens through federal regulations.

Even if you don't go to the beach or on vacation, the sunscreen you use rinses off. It goes down the drain and harms our marine life. Read the ingredients list to determine if the sunscreen is really "reef-friendly" and not just used as marketing tactic.

Here is everything you need to know about reef-safe sunscreen and our picks for the best biodegradable sunscreen.

Best Sellers - Most Popular Biodegradable Sunscreen

Brands purchased the most by our readers. 

  • 1st Place: Thinksport - Best seller
  • 2nd Place: Sun Bum  - Best for sensitive skin 
  • 3rd Place: Reef Repair - Best for kids 
  • 4th Place: CeraVe - Best hydrating mineral sunscreen
  • 5th Place: Elta MD - Best for daily use 

What is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Biodegradable sunscreen is made with environmentally friendly materials that break-down naturally and aren’t harmful to coral reefs.

How to Choose The Best Biodegradable Sunscreen 

The Best Biodegradable Sunscreen

Avoid Harsh Chemicals That Contribute to Coral Bleaching Such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate

A lot of sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. Sunscreen manufacturers include these chemicals because they are effective in blocking UV rays. However, studies have shown that they contribute to coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is when algae leaves the coral's tissue due to pollution. The algae is the coral's main source of food. Without it, the coral gets sick and turns white.  

A well-known study in 2015 found that 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the ocean and impact coral reefs every year. 

The harmful chemicals in sunscreen can still reach the ocean even if you aren't at the beach. When you shower, all the sunscreen on your skin rinses off and goes down the drain, eventually reaching our rivers and oceans. You can read more about it here

Hawaii and Key West, Florida approved legislation to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Picture of Coral Reef

Carefully Review the Ingredients List

There aren’t any standards that sunscreen must meet to call itself “reef-safe.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t set definitions or limits on this hazard.  

If you aren’t careful, you can wind up paying more for sunscreen that says “biodegradable” or “reef-safe” when it is just marketing jargon.

Consumers should look at the ingredients list when purchasing sunscreen. Try to avoid the chemicals listed below, as they can be harmful to coral reefs.

Chemicals to avoid:

  • Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, Benzophenone, OD-PABA, Methyl benzylidene camphor, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, and Retinyl palmitate

Look For Chemical-Free or Mineral Sunscreen 

Some sunscreen brands use mineral blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients block UV rays and won't harm the environment.

Furthermore, dermatologists say that chemical-free or mineral-based sunscreen is better for people with sensitive skin.  

Our Picks for The Best Biodegradable and Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Many of the sunscreen brands on our list are members of the Safe Sunscreen Council or have achieved Climate Pledge Friendly status via sustainability certifications. 

1. Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen

Sun Bum is the most trusted brand in sunscreen! People say it smells like summer. 

More importantly, it is hypoallergenic and oxybenzone, 0ctinoxate, gluten, cruelty and paraben free. Truly reef-friendly and great for all types of skin. 

Plus, they aren't shy about their ingredients list. They clearly list each ingredient so you know what is going on your skin. 

Check out all of the positive reviews on Amazon!

Kokua Sun Care Sunscreen

Kokua Sun Care has everything you hope to see in a reef-safe sunscreen. This natural zinc sunscreen includes antioxidants grown in Hawaii. Most importantly, it rubs in clearly and complies with all sunscreen bans. 

It has been cleared for use in Hawaii, Palau, Marshall Islands, US Virgin Islands, Bonaire, Aruba, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel, and more!

See why it was rated one of the Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens by Outside Magazine!

Thinksport is a best-seller on Amazon with tons of positive reviews. 

It is water-resistant, making it the ideal sunscreen for water activities and sports.

Plus, it isn't greasy or oily and the scent isn't too strong.

Thinksport lasts all day and our readers love using it while on cruises, trips to the Caribbean, or for snorkeling or diving trips. 

CeraVe protects your skin from the sun and provides all day hydration, It has essential ceramides that help restore the skin’s natural barrier and lock in moisture. 

It was developed with dermatologists to instantly leave skin with a healthy glow without any white cast. Suitable for all skin tones! 

5. Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46 Face Sunscreen

Elta MD offers UVA/UVB sun protection and rubs in clear without any white cast.

It is breathable, easy to apply, and doesn't leave any residue. You can wear it under makeup or alone.

Perfect to add to your daily skincare routine to help reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

Plus, it is mineral-based and doesn't include harmful chemicals. Great for the environment and for protecting your skin! 

6. Reef Repair Reef Safe Sunscreen

Reef Repair is a kid-safe, biodegradable, broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen great for vacations or summer days at the pool or lake. 

Waterproof for up to 80 minutes whether in the sand, sun, sea or surf!

Safe for marine and aquatic life including our delicate coral reefs. 

All Good Mineral Sunscreen

All Good is committed to using good ingredients. They use zinc oxide which provides mineral-based protection and doesn't absorb into your skin. 

Their sunscreen is gluten-free, vegan, and hypoallergenic. Perfect for the whole family!

Badge Sunscreen - Active mineral sunscreen. 30 SPF, water resistant, clear zinc

This reef-safe sunscreen is unscented, hypoallergenic, and has only five ingredients (zinc oxide, organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, sunflower vitamin E, and organic seabuckthorn extract). 

Badger is a family-owned, women-run B Corp established in 1995. It is simple, safe, and sustainable!

9. La Roche-Posay SPF 60

Lastly, we have La Roche-Posay, an oil free sunscreen made for sensitive skin. It is high-quality, eco-friendly (Oxybenzone free!) sunscreen. 

Most of our readers say it was recommended by their dermatologist and now they use it all the time! 

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. How do I know if my sunscreen is biodegradable? 

The best way to tell is by looking at the ingredients list. It shouldn’t contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, PABA, or methylbenzylidene camphor. Try to find sunscreen that uses natural or organic ingredients. You can also look at the labels on the packaging.

2. How does sunscreen hurt the environment?

Sunscreen rinses off our skin while in the water or after showering. It enters the ecosystem and acts like an oil or pollutant, covering coral reefs and essentially suffocating them.

3. Why are coral reefs important? Why is coral bleaching a problem? 

Coral reefs are important to our environment and economy. They protect coastlines from storms and erosion, house fish and other wildlife, and support our local economy through tourism. Additionally, coral reefs are important in the development of new medicines to treat cancer, arthritis, and other diseases.

4. Where can I buy biodegradable sunscreen?

We have found a lot of eco-friendly sunscreen brands on Amazon. None of the major sunscreen brands, such as Coppertone, are reef-safe. So, finding biodegradable sunscreen in your local store can be difficult. We like buying from brands that don’t use harmful ingredients and are active members of the Safe Sunscreen Council.

5. What is the best sunscreen for people with sunscreen allergies?

Dermatoligsts recommend people with sunscreen allergies use mineral-based sunscreen because it contains fewer chemicals that irritate your screen.

6. What is mineral-based sunscreen? 

Mineral-based sunscreen uses natural ingredients to form a physical shield between your skin and the sun’s UV rays. Look for products that say “zinc oxide” or “titanium dioxide” on the label.

7. Is biodegradable sunscreen as effective as normal sunscreen?

Yes, it is just as effective. Biodegradable sunscreen brands offer tons of SPF options (anywhere from SPF 15 – SPF 50 or more).

8. Will biodegradable sunscreen rub in well?

Yes, it will.  Mineral-based sunscreens used to leave a “chalky cast” for people with darker skin tones, while chemical-based sunscreens did not. However, advancements have improved the texture and appearance of mineral-based sunscreen to the point where it is easier for people to use. 

9. Does using sunscreen everyday prevent cancer?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing cancer. When choosing a daily sunscreen, it is important to select one that absorbs quickly and is easy to apply.  

More Articles

About the Author Staff Writer

Our writers come from all over the world, but one thing unites them - their passion for sustainability.

Leave a Comment: