With climate change, overfishing, and pollution threatening our waters, protecting our marine life is more important now than ever. If you are visiting an island or snorkeling and swimming in the sea, reef-safe sunscreen can help save our reef and other marine life. This small change can go a long way. Here is everything you need to know about why reef safe sunscreens are so important and the best brands you can purchase.

What Are Reef-Safe Sunscreens?

Reef-safe or reef-friendly sunscreens are sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. These two UV-blocking chemicals shield you from sunburn; however, they are known to cause coral bleaching, damaging the reef. 

Fortunately, you can guard yourself from intense UV rays while keeping our environment safe; just lather your body with a reef-safe sunscreen. This is extremely important to do on vacation when surfing, snorkeling, or swimming, especially near reefs or with sea turtles. But reef-friendly sunscreens are also gaining popularity in everyday life, thanks to their natural ingredients. 

Why Are Reef-Safe Sunscreens Important?

Protecting our marine life is critical, primarily since coral reefs act as a cushion, shielding our coasts from waves, storms, and floods. More importantly, they are home to over 25% of marine life, that is over one million species that rely on coral reefs for food and shelter.

The National Park Service evaluates that up to six thousand tons of sunscreen affects the reefs yearly, damaging the coral. Oxybenzone and Octinoxate in sunscreens contribute to coral bleaching and, eventually, the death of the coral. 

Long-term exposure to large amounts of sunscreen in the water has also been linked to cell and tissue damage to animal life. The oxidative stress is disrupting their endocrine and reproductive systems, which could, in the end, make some marine life extinct. Because of this, sunscreen companies and states are doing their part to help. 

Sunscreen Bans

Some states and countries have sunscreen bans, so you must use reef-friendly sunscreen during your visit. Hawaii and Key West, Florida, have banned the sale of sunscreens containing harmful oxybenzone and octinoxate. Parts of Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Bonaire, or Palau are other places where you must wear only reef-safe sunscreen. 

Those who need sunscreen in any of these locations can only purchase reef-friendly products during their visit or pack them in advance in their carry-on or checked luggage.

Top 5 Reef-Safe Sunscreens

Now that you know why reef-safe sunscreen is so important to our marine life, we will review the top 5 reef-safe sunscreens you can try.

#1 COOLA Organic Mineral Sunscreen

COOLA is a famous Californian sun care brand that has created an organic mineral sunscreen with 14.5% non-nano zinc oxide actives that protect from UVA and UVB. COOLA prides itself on keeping its products 70% or more organic while sourcing most of its ingredients from farms. The COOLA Organic Mineral Sunscreen formula contains an antioxidant-rich Plant Protection Complex with naturally adequate nutrients, including Red Raspberry Seed Oil, Buriti Oil, Meadowfoam Seed Oil, and Prickly Pear Extract. 

It also features Safflower Oleosomes, which has a plant-derived encapsulation technology that optimizes the effectiveness of its sunscreen. COOLA Organic Mineral Sunscreen is water-resistant and reef-friendly, so feel free to swim or snorkel mindfully. Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply after 80 minutes of being in the water. You should use this sunscreen every two hours, at least.

It is ideal for those with sensitive skin thanks to its sheer finish and no white cast that hydrates your skin. This Broad Spectrum SPF 50 mineral protection will help defend you from the sun while saving our reefs and animal life. COOLA has also partnered with PETA to support similar projects that help save other animals.

#2 Raw Elements Face and Body All-Natural Mineral Sunscreen

Raw Elements has formulated a top-rated sunscreen for your face and body. Enjoy the UVA-UVB accurate broad-spectrum coverage of 23% Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, which is gentle and moisturizing. The reef-safe sunscreen is free of soy, gluten, and nuts and contains no synthetic chemicals. This delicate formula is performance-driven and can be added to your daily skincare routine. It is also kid-friendly and lasts up to 80 minutes without running or stinging their eyes.

Raw Elements is recognized for helping the environment with its products, developed by Brian Guadagno, an ocean lifeguard with a purpose. They have a core team dedicated to positively impacting the world. 

Their Face and Body All-Natural Mineral Sunscreen is reef-safe, leaping bunny certified, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and packaged in biodegradable, recyclable, plastic-free bio-resin tubes.

Raw Elements is dedicated to educating themselves and others on environmental awareness and sun safety. They even founded World Reef Day as a call to action for customers, companies, and associations to understand how delicate the ecosystem of our ocean’s coral reefs is and how they are dying worldwide. Using their products goes a long way since they genuinely care about our ocean life. 

#3 Headhunter Heavy Duty Reef Safe Sunscreen

Headhunter Heavy Duty Reef Safe Sunscreen was designed for surfers, by surfers. The company was formed by a group of lifeguards on the island of Tavarua in Fiji. They couldn’t find a sunscreen that could keep up with their active lifestyles, so they created a surf-specific sunscreen brand.

This sunscreen provides heavy-duty SPF 50 skin defense while also staying reef-safe. It is water-resistant, non-greasy, hypoallergenic, and non-comedogenic. It comes out as a light brown formula that you will rub into your skin and it will stay on until you wash it off. 

This Headhunter sunscreen was developed for water sports enthusiasts. Headhunter sunscreen is dependable and robust, staying on your skin when in the water. The lotion is easy to apply, thanks to its gentle formula that absorbs quickly and won’t sting our eyes. 

Apply to your head, face, and neck if you have a wetsuit on or your entire body if surfing in a swimsuit. Headhunter Heavy Duty Reef Safe Sunscreen is water resistant for 80 minutes and is recommended to apply to dry skin 15 minutes before surfing.

This product is 100% Reef-Safe, has no chemical activities, and is made with natural minerals. It is also environmentally friendly, coming in recyclable tube packaging. Their product is travel-friendly at 3oz, ideal for throwing in your beach bag. 

#4 Blue Lizard’s Sensitive Face Mineral Sunscreen

Try Blue Lizard’s Sensitive Face Mineral Sunscreen if you have sensitive skin. This Australian mineral-sensitive face sunscreen was developed for daily wear and includes zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, a combination known to reflect UV rays. It has a lightweight, oil-free formula protecting you from 97% UV rays. 

This sunscreen nourishes your skin with hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like green tea and caffeine. It won’t clog your pores since it has no skin-irritating chemical sunscreen ingredients, parabens, or fragrances. 

Blue Lizard has proudly created dermatologist-recommended products for over 20 years.  They are passionate about creating the best mineral-based sunscreens to give you serious sun protection that’s gentle on sensitive skin and safe for marine life.

They help rescue delicate reef ecosystems by containing no oxybenzone or octinoxate in this sensitive face sunscreen. Not sure how intense the sun is where you are? Watch the cap turn blue in harmful UV light; that is when you will know it’s time to apply the sunscreen.

#5 Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen

Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen is family-owned, family-run, and family-friendly. They have formulated and manufactured natural and organic body care and mineral sunscreens in rural New Hampshire, using their 100% solar-powered facility. 

Their Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen has just four simple ingredients: zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax, and vitamin E. These gluten-free and non-GMO ingredients help moisturize, nourish & protect your skin. With broad-spectrum UVA UVB protection, this mineral zinc oxide sunscreen helps prevent sunburn and skin damage.

Thanks to its light sunflower base, it is easy to apply to both your face and body. The sunscreen lasts 80 minutes and is sweat and water-resistant. Perfect for those indulging in a beach day or participating in water sports. 

This sunscreen is reef-safe, too, thanks to the ingredients’ lack of oxybenzone or harmful chemicals to coral reefs. Rolling Stone Magazine awarded them the Best Moisturizing Reef Safe Sunscreen in 2023. 

Badger mineral sunscreens have no synthetic ingredients, are cruelty-free, and come in 50% PCR tubes. They care about the environment, and purchasing their sunscreen helps support their journey

Save Our Coral Reefs

Scientists believe that coral reefs are in decline in the United States and worldwide. They may be in jeopardy unless we, as a whole, increase our efforts to save them. That is just one of the reasons why using reef-friendly sunscreen is so important. It will help safeguard our coastlines and the marine life that calls reefs their home. Purchasing a reef-friendly sunscreen is one way to keep our coral reefs from dying. It is a small price to pay to protect your skin, coral reefs, and marine life from harsh chemicals and damage. Buy one or all of the products above for your next beach day.