When you're looking for the best biodegradable sunscreens, sometimes called reef-friendly or reef-safe sunscreen, it's all about zeroing in on formulas with ingredients less likely to harm the environment. Every year, 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off beachgoers and others into coral reef environments, according to the Oceanic Society. Many of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen can disrupt coral DNA and inhibit coral’s ability to reproduce, cause deformities, and makes coral more susceptible to bleaching.
The two primary chemicals to avoid to prevent wreaking havoc on the oceans are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Hawaii has gone as far as to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the two chemicals in the state, though the law won’t go into effect until 2021. And unfortunately, while aerosols can make sunscreen easy to apply, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends that consumers avoid spray sunscreens since they can pose dangers when inhaled, while others note that spray sunscreens leave a bigger trace on the sand (and therefore more will eventually end up in the water).
To find the best sunscreens for the environment (and your health), opt for physical blockers — most commonly zinc oxide and titanium oxide. While some prefer sunscreens that advertise as "non-nano" since nanoparticles can also do harm to coral, the EWG notes to takes these statements with a grain of salt since "particle sizes vary among manufacturers, nearly all would be considered nanomaterials under a broad definition of the term." So don't leave your beach coverup far behind. Clothing and accessories like hats can dramatically limit the amount of sunscreen you need to apply while also keeping you protected. For outdoor activities like surfing or paddle boarding, look for rash guards and other clothes with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
To enjoy the sun and keep the environment safe and beautiful for years to come, the best highly biodegradable sunscreens have you covered.
1. The Best Overall Biodegradable Sunscreen
Safe for babies but strong enough for the whole family, this sunscreen uses non-nano zinc oxide for the active ingredient meaning it's reef-friendly and highly biodegradable. The formula is free of oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates, BPA, and gluten, as well as vegan and cruelty-free. Moisturizing and revitalizing aloe, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C help keep the skin happy. And this bottle is even water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It also comes highly recommended by the EWG for safety, with a 1 rating. It has a 4.4-rating on Amazon, but some customers warned that it can leave white streaks. At less than $4 an ounce, while it's not the cheapest choice out there, it's also not a bad price.
Fans say: "I used the Thinkbaby sunscreen on myself when I was pregnant when we went to Playa del Carmen for our babymoon. We went to this natural water park called Xcaret that has these underground rivers and they were very strict about which sunscreens you brought in b/c they wanted to protect the natural wildlife and habitats in the water. They have security at the entrance checking your bags for these chemical sunscreens and force you to throw them away and provide you with mineral sunscreen. I showed them my Thinkbaby and it was on the approved list."
2. The Most Natural Biodegradable Sunscreen
Developed by two scientists with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this sunscreen is your best bet if you're willing to spend a little bit more for your earth love. The super-short formula list of just 10 ingredients includes skin-nurturing aloe vera, green tea extract, hemp seed oil, and other moisturizers. Cruelty-free and paraben-free, it's also safe for kids and water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Fans say: "We bought this sunscreen because we are always looking for a natural, reef safe product that really works. SolThera delivers! The sunscreen has a pleasant, though light, coconut scent. It goes on smoothly and absorbs well. This sunscreen meets all of the criteria that I have for a safe product...mineral, non-nano, waterproof and reef and coral safe."
3. The Best Biodegradable Sunscreen For Face
With transparent zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients, this lightly tinted mineral sunscreen is a great choice for even the most sensitive skin, especially since it does not include fragrance, oil, or parabens. Frequently recommended by dermatologists, it's even water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.
Fans say: "I'm an esthetician and have tried soooo many things. This product is also safe for post treatment skin which is why it is popular in dermatologists offices. I use this on my 3 year old also and don't have to worry because the ingredients are safe and high quality. I highly recommend this product."
4. The Best Budget Face Sunscreen
This drugstore sunscreen uses zinc oxide as its active ingredient making it a great, highly biodegradable choice for less. It comes recommended by Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and is noncomedogenic and oil-free, making it a smart choice for easily irritated or acne-prone skin. The fact that it's free of fragrance, parabens, phthalates, and dyes also helps.
Fans say: "It goes on smoothly and rubs in easily, it doesn’t turn my face stark white (a little white, but not as much as other, thicker ones did), it doesn’t sweat off and run down my face in these high summer temperatures (and I sweat a LOT), and the fragrance is really benign. Also, it doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin or make me break out- which a lot of sunscreens can do."
Also Great: A Biodegradable Lip Balm With SPF
With a natural olive oil and beeswax base, and non-nanoparticle zinc oxide as the sun-protecting ingredient, this pack of three lip balms with SPF 15 keep your lips smooth and safe. With natural botanicals like soothing calendula and healing comfrey, customers loved the physical sunscreen and subtle flavor of these.
Fans say: "Not easy to find SPF lip balm that isn't loaded with chemicals. This stuff works great with no weird taste."
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