Choosing the best sunscreen will keep you and your family safe.
But did you know that your choice also impacts the environment?
70% of sunscreens on the U.S. market contain harsh chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals can damage or kill coral reefs.
Some popular vacation destinations, such as Cozumel, Mexico, have banned non-biodegradable sunscreens through federal regulations.
Here is everything you need to know about reef-safe sunscreen and our picks for the best biodegradable sunscreen.
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
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.
Carefully Review the Ingredients List
There aren’t any standards that sunscreen must meet to call itself “reef-safe”. The 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.
Source: National Ocean Service
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
All the sunscreen brands on our list are members of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
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.
See why it was rated one of the Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens by Outside Magazine!
Thinksport has tons of positive reviews on Amazon and we understand why.
It doesn't leave your skin oily and the scent isn't too strong. It is the first sunscreen to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care requirements and doesn't use animal testing.
Raw Elements was founded by Brian Guadagno, an ocean lifeguard who was dissatisfied with chemical sunscreens. They provide a water-resistant, reef-safe sunscreen that won't run or sting your eyes.
According to their website, the medium tint matches all skin tones and the convenient stick makes it easy to apply.
This certified natural sunscreen is made in the USA and all the packaging is recyclable.
Sea & Summit is plant-based and only uses six organic ingredients! We love that it rubs in clearly and is 100% fair trade and plastic-free.
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!
This reef-safe sunscreen is unscented 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!
Lastly, we have Manda Organic Sun Paste, a unique option on our list.
Manda contains Thanaka, a natural paste made from pulverized tree bark. Thanaka has been used for over 2,000 years by Burmese people to protect and beautify the skin. It is all natural and regenerative. You can read more about Thanaka here.
Furthermore, Manda uses bamboo and tin to make reusable packaging. Check them out!
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
What if I have a sunscreen allergy?
Ecofriendly sunscreen is likely a better option for people with sunscreen allergies. Dermatologists recommend using mineral-based sunscreen because it contains fewer chemicals that irritate your screen.
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.
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).
Will it 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.
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