The best reef safe sunscreen brands

The best reef safe sunscreen fits a number of criteria. It has no plastic content, obviously. It needs to be safe from toxins, have a decent SPF and protection rating, and most importantly not be harmful to life on the reef when it gets washed off by the waves. 

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What is a reef safe sunscreen?

First off, don’t believe the marketing spiel on the label. If we can’t believe the label, what is a reef safe sunscreen? 

Check your facts and make sure that it has no nasties in it. Microplastics wreak destruction on reefs. They can be swallowed by fish and reptiles like turtles. Microplastic beads are used to bind the sun cream ingredients so that you don’t end up with watery sunscreen running down your arm or face. 

The Plastic Soup Foundation is building up a database of products and have found that 72% of sun care products have microplastics or skeptical microplastics or both. This is bad news as sunscreen washes off when you go for a dip in the sea or snorkel the coral reef, leaving the plastic behind to damage the local environment. 

Beat the Microbead is an app by the Plastic Soup Foundation. It is super easy to install and use. Scan the ingredients of any product and the app will tell you if it has any microplastics in it. 

Zinc oxide is micronized to reduce the white cast that so many sunbathers can’t stand. The trouble is that micronized zinc oxide reduces the particle size and can result in nanoparticles. Nanoparticles of the chemicals in sunscreen, even those that are considered safe like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, can impact coral growth. 

A study in 2014 found that nanoparticles of titanium oxide, which is generally considered reef safe, caused stress in Caribbean mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata) and may contribute to coral decline. 

The HEL list was drawn up by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL for short), a non-profit scientific lab. Haereticus means ‘able to choose’ and their whole ethos is supplying information for people to make safe and environmentally friendly choices in their lives. 

Chemicals that are on the HEL list include any microplastics and any nanoparticles or any of the following: 

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methyl Paraben
  • Ethyl Paraben
  • Propyl Paraben
  • Butyl Paraben
  • Benzyl Paraben
  • Triclosan

It is extremely difficult to find a sunscreen that has none of these ingredients in it! 

Haereticus Environmental Laboratory certifies brands with their Protect Land + Sea label. If you see a sunscreen with this label, it has been tested to ensure it contains none of these chemicals. 

Save the Reef suggests we use lotions rather than sprays, as titanium dioxide can be harmful if inhaled. It is even being banned by the EU as a food additive, because of the potential that it is a carcinogen. 

And of course, sun cream is often supplied in a plastic bottle. Plastic bottles are themselves part of the problem with ocean pollution. No plastic packaging would be ideal. Failing this, sunscreen in reduced & recycled plastic packaging would be a step in the right direction. Being able to recycle or refill the bottle would also be helpful. Bio-plastics are great for this. 

In our search for reef safe sunscreen that was not packed in plastic, we found that most brands that were certified as plastic free or reef safe by HEL had swapped to recyclable or bio-plastic packaging. 

Reef safe sunscreen brands

Now that we have covered some of the features to look for, here are some reef safe sunscreen brands to consider. 

Tropic reef safe sunscreens

Tropic has a number of reef safe sunscreens that are Protect Land + Sea certified products, including the Great Barrier Sun Lotion. It is SPF 50 and high UVA & UVB protection. While it is not Boots star rated or PA+ rated, this sun cream has 98% UVB protection. Tropic says the entire range is ‘above optimum’ protection and approved by Cosmetics Europe. Great Barrier Sun Lotion has both zinc oxide and titanium oxide barriers as well as aloe vera and vitamin E. It is packaged in a plastic tube but the wrap is carbon captured paper. 

Odacite California Sun Guardian Day Creme 

Odacite Sun Guardian Day Creme also uses both zinc oxide and titanium oxide as barriers. The day cream includes aloe vera, calendula, green tea and vitamin e with oceanic glacial water. It is vegan and cruelty free with an SPF of 30 and broad spectrum UVA & UVB protection. The day cream is packaged in a glass bottle. Certified as Protect Land + Sea tested by HEL. 

Stream2Sea Reef Safe Sunscreen

Stream2Sea is a non-nano titanium dioxide sunscreen. It is plant based, fragrance free and non-toxic with green tea, holy basil, wakame seaweed and olive leaf. It is water resistant and broad spectrum factor 30 which exceeds the FDA’s requirements. The products are shark free and vegan. Certified Protect Land + Sea tested by HEL. Packaged in 100% recyclable tubes made from sugar cane resin. 

Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen

Badger reef safe sunscreen is available in 50% PCR tubes or ‘infinitely recyclable’ tins. The tinned Sport Mineral Sunscreen Tin has been certified as Protect Land + Sea. 98% organic and with only four ingredients, the Sport Mineral Sunscreen has zinc oxide as the active ingredient. SPF 40, broad spectrum and water resistant. Badger is a 100% solar powered B-corp based in New Hampshire. 

Sunblocz Baby Sunscreen

Olen Sunblocz Baby + Kids is a non nano zinc oxide mineral based sunscreen. It’s made in Canada with 100% natural ingredients. Tested and certified Protect Land + Sea by HEL, it is coral reef safe. It is recommended by pediatricians and dermatologists. Sunblocz Baby + Kids sunscreen is very water resistant and SPF 50 with broad spectrum UVA & UVB protection. We don’t know what this product is packaged in, we’ll report back if we find out!

Amazinc Reef Safe Sunscreen

Amazinc sunscreen comes highly recommended by the Plastic Soup Foundation and we can see why. Ingredients are clearly listed with non-nano zinc oxide. The sunscreen is packaged in a 100% recyclable aluminum bottle. It has great protection with SPF 50, broad UVA & UVB protection and a 5 star Boots rating. Plus it is water resistant, suitable for children and vegan. What’s not to like?  It is made in the Czech Republic so it will need shipping and it is not easy to find online. 

Beauty Kitchen Reef Safe Sunscreen

Beauty Kitchen’s Invisible Mineral Shield is also recommended by the Plastic Soup Foundation. It is a zinc oxide physical barrier sun cream with 100% naturally derived ingredients. Cruelty free. Packaged in recyclable plastic tubes. SPF 30 and broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. 

Naif Baby & Kids Sunscreen

The final recommendation from the Plastic Soup Foundation is Naif Baby Sunscreen. This is packaged in a bio-plastic tube made from sugarcane. SPF 50 and zinc oxide based, with natural UVA protection. No nano (plastic) particles, so it is reef safe. Naif Baby & Kids Sunscreen is made in the Netherlands and available on Amazon UK. 

Best reef safe sunscreen

What’s the best reef friendly sunscreen?  Well, out of this list we really like the Stream2Sea sunscreen for their whole ethos around ingredients and we love that Badger sunscreen is made in a 100% solar powered factory. Plus it is packed in recyclable materials. We’d love it if Amazinc could be more widely available. Do you have a favorite reef safe sunscreen? 

The best reef safe sunscreen comes down to whether the product has anything in it that will impact on the natural world. A certified product is always best. Bonus points if it works. Sustainability credentials matter – make sure it contains no nasty toxins and is free from plastics, is not animal tested, is sustainably packaged, and ideally produced locally and not flown around the world.