Did you know that that most traditional sunscreens contain two ingredients — oxybenzone and octinoxate — that are harmful to coral reefs and marine life? When you go swimming in the ocean wearing one of these sunscreens, the chemicals leak into the water where they can cause irreversible damage. That's why it's so important to make sure you're using one of the best reef-safe sunscreens anytime you hit the beach. These will typically be mineral sunscreens, which use ingredients like zinc or titanium dioxide for their sun protection, instead of those environmentally harmful and potentially irritating chemicals.
Unfortunately, just like how there isn't any real government regulation behind beauty products that claim to be "natural" or "organic," the same goes for brands that slap the term "reef-safe" on their labels. Similarly, there's still a ton of research yet to be done on other ingredients used in sunscreens that might also be harmful to coral reefs and marine life. That being said, avoiding products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate is a good place to start. Also, look for mineral sunscreens that say they're non-nano (or non-nanotized). This basically means they pose less of a risk to marine life since their particles are larger, and therefore more difficult to be ingested or absorbed by marine life.
To help get you started on your quest for a more environmentally friendly sunscreen, here are four of the best reef-safe formulas on the market, below.
1. Tie: best reef-safe sunscreen for your body
One of the safest, most eco-friendly sunscreens you can buy is thinksport's SPF 50+ Sunscreen. It doesn't contain any avobenzone, oxybenzone, or other potentially harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and para-aminobenzoic acid. Instead, it uses non-nano zinc oxide to offer an SPF of 50, and it's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Last, it has a '1' rating from the EWG — the best possible, which means a product is low-hazard.
Reviewers also love this sunscreen for its non-greasy feel, subtle scent, and long-lasting effectiveness. "I used this every single day this summer and never once got burned," raves one fan. Users with sensitive skin and eyes also swear by it, as it "doesn't sting" and "does not clog pores."
2. Tie: best reef-safe sunscreen for your body
Another zinc oxide sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and '1' rating from the EWG is this sunscreen from Kokua. Like thinksport's formula, its water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, and 30 other chemical ingredients known to be hazardous to marine life. What sets it apart, however — and justifies its heftier price tag — is its impressive ingredients list, which comprises a whole host of antioxidant-rich Hawaiian "superfoods" that are amazing for skin. These include noni honey, noni juice, macadamia nut oil, and spirulina, which have soothing and moisturizing benefits.
"Living in Hawaii, I really need a natural zinc sunscreen that actually works, something safe enough for my baby’s skin, won’t rub off the kids so easily and lasts while at the beach, swimming and surfing. Because it lasts and stays on longer than other sunscreens I have used, you get a lot for your money ... although it is natural, it has a non-greasy feel, and you can definitely tell that it’s on there protecting you from the sun," writes one reviewer.
3. Best value
The first two products on this list are great, sure — but they both come in smaller 3-ounce bottles. This sunscreen from Blue Lizard comes in a much larger 8-ounce bottle, which should keep you stocked for a while, and it also has an EWG rating of '1.' Though unlike the other two, it has an SPF of 30 and is only water-resistant up to 40 minutes. The formula is free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens, and fragrance, making it safe for both marine life and sensitive skin.
Multiple reviewers call it the "best sunscreen [they've] ever used," nothing it's particularly protective if you have fair, sensitive skin. "Blue Lizard works better than anything else we've tried," writes one customer. "Fair-skinned family living near the beach. Fewer applications needed and not greasy."
4. Best reef-safe sunscreen for your face
For a face-friendly sunscreen, this moisturizer/primer duo from Suntegrity is a great choice. It has a '1' rating from the EWG, is made with non-nano zinc oxide, and doesn't contain any chemicals that are harmful to the environment or your skin. Enriched with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, green tea, and jojoba, the formula is also free of potential allergens like propylene glycol. It wears beautifully under makeup and leave skin soothed and soft.
"LOVE IT.... Best sunscreen out there hands down," writes one reviewer. "I am a chemist and know my chemistry. The ingredient list is so impressive and so good for your skin." Another says, "It's effective, evens out my fair skin, doesn't break me out, moisturizes without becoming greasy, and the ingredients are safe enough to use during pregnancy & breastfeeding."
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