By now, we all know that wearing broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sunscreen helps us avoid the risk of sunburn and skin cancer (not to mention wrinkles!). Nearly 100 years after humans invented sunscreen, it finally occurred to us that the same UV filters that protect our skin might, unfortunately, be harming our environment.
Although more studies need to be conducted, at least one study linked the organic ultraviolet filters in sunscreen to coral bleaching. Tropical coral reefs take up less than 0.1 percent of the ocean’s surface, and yet they are home to about a quarter of marine species, according to an article in Environmental Sciences Europe. So, we want to do our part to protect these beautiful biodiversity hotspots.
Beach vacation hotspots such as Hawaii, Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been doing their part to protect both the reefs and the tourism they attract by banning the sale of sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, two controversial chemicals that were in most sunscreens sold in the U.S. The USVI took this a step further, allowing only non-nano mineral sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and prohibiting a third ingredient: octocrylene.
Now “reef-safe,” “reef-friendly,” and “coral-friendly” sunscreens are being marketed. The labels are not regulated but are usually used to refer to sunscreens that omit the banned oxybenzone and octinoxate filters. Here are some of the highest-rated reef-safe sunscreens that promise to protect your skin and coral reefs.
Koa Tinted Mineral Sunscreen is a non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen for your face that does not leave a white cast. Its lightweight, breathable formula blends seamlessly into skin and absorbs quickly without being sticky. In addition to delivering SPF 45 protection, this tinted sunscreen works to “moisturize, calm, and restore skin, as it tightens pores,” with ingredients like vitamin B and chamomile. This Hawaiian-based company also uses recycled and recyclable materials in all of its products.
With the jury still out on what all actually may harm reefs, Sun Bum is covering its bum by calling its sunscreens Hawaii Act 104 Reef Compliant. Sun Bum sunscreens do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate or other suspect ingredients like parabens and phthalates. Their original lotion is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and smells like coconut.
Just as the name implies, Banana Boat® Light As Air™ is weightless and breathable. The non-greasy formula absorbs into the skin quickly, without feeling heavy or greasy. Made without oxybenzone or octinoxate, this reef-friendly sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
For kiddos, Blue Lizard touts itself as the #1 pediatrician-recommended mineral-based sunscreen brand. Not only does it not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, but it’s also paraben-free and fragrance-free, so it is ideal for sensitive skin. The water-resistant formula lasts for up to 80 minutes. Plus, the bottle changes colors when exposed to harmful UV light!