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Which reef-safe sunscreen is best?

The purpose of sunscreen is to protect the health of your skin. But what about the well-being of the planet? Using a reef-safe sunscreen can protect your skin and the earth’s fragile coral reefs at the same time.

As you may already know, many traditional sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone, which can be harmful to coral reefs. Because reef-safe sunscreens use less toxic ingredients, they’re better for both the environment and your skin.

To find the right reef-safe sunscreen for your needs, keep reading. We’ve compiled the best expert advice and even included reviews of a few of our favorites at the end. Our top pick is SPF Rx’s SPF 50 Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, which offers some of the most comprehensive skin protection on the market.

What to know before you buy a reef-safe sunscreen

Why use reef-safe sunscreen?

In recent years, we’ve learned that much of the sunscreen we wear comes off of our bodies as we swim; this causes long-term damage to the surrounding coral. As much as 4,000-6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off of swimmers every year. Some estimates put that number even higher.

Coral is affected by these chemicals in their habitat because they’re actually animals — not plants. When exposed to the oxybenzone in some sunscreens, the reproductive system, endocrine system, and even base DNA of coral can be irreparably damaged. In addition to oxybenzone, other common sunscreen ingredients, such as butylparaben, octinoxate, and enzacamene, can contribute to the destruction of our precious reefs.

Now that we have the ability to use sunscreen that doesn’t harm marine environments, we should make every effort to use them. That’s why getting a good reef-safe sunscreen is a smart idea.

Reef-safe ingredients

Reef-safe sunscreens rely on physical barriers to block harmful UVA and UVB sun rays. Most utilize zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both to accomplish this. Traditional sunscreens, on the other hand, use chemical compounds as a way to absorb these rays. In order for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to be reef-safe, they must be labeled as coated and non-nanotized.

What to look for in a quality reef-safe sunscreen

SPF rating

Like all sunscreens, reef-safe sunscreens should have an SPF rating. A higher SPF allows you to stay in the sun for a longer period of time. However, dermatologists say you should reapply sunscreen every two hours because you tend to sweat it off after that time. Most reef-safe sunscreens will be rated between 30 and 50 SPF.

Water resistance

Many reef-safe sunscreens are labeled as water-resistant. These will be more effective while swimming and sweating than those that are not. However, all sunscreens will eventually wear off, so remember to reapply.

Baby/kids formula

Many of the most popular reef-safe sunscreens are marketed as formulas that are safe for babies and children. They’re most often hypoallergenic and free from harmful chemical compounds, such as parabens and phthalates. If you’re an adult with sensitive skin, a reef-safe sunscreen formulated for babies and kids is likely to be a good choice for you, too.


While many reef-safe sunscreens are scented, either naturally or intentionally, you may not want a scent with your sun protection. If this is the case, then you can opt for a fragrance-free reef-safe sunscreen.

How much you can expect to spend on a reef-safe sunscreen

Most reef-safe sunscreens cost between $3-$11 per ounce. For $3 per ounce, reef-safe sunscreens are basic budget-brand options that may not be water-resistant. For $6 per ounce, you can expect to buy an organic reef-safe sunscreen. At around $11 per ounce, reef-safe sunscreens are premium formulas, often made locally in reef-based communities.

Reef-safe sunscreens FAQ

Is a “biodegradable” sunscreen the same as a “reef-safe” sunscreen?

A. Not necessarily. A biodegradable sunscreen will break down into organic components when faced with extended moisture or heat. However, some ingredients in these sunscreens, such as lavender and eucalyptus oil, can be harmful to reefs. Check the ingredients list to be sure that you’re getting a truly reef-safe sunscreen.

Does zinc oxide or titanium dioxide offer the best protection from the sun?

A. Zinc oxide is the best barrier against UVA and UVB rays. However, titanium dioxide is also effective for blocking these harmful rays. The best reef-safe sunscreens often incorporate both ingredients to bolster your protection.

What reef-safe sunscreens are best to buy?

Top reef-safe sunscreen

SPF Rx’s SPF 50 Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide

SPF Rx’s SPF 50 Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide

Our take: You can feel confident with this sunscreen that you’re doing your best to protect both your skin and the planet.

What we like: A chemical-free, mineral-based formula. Safe for all skin types. Water-resistant for nearly an hour and a half.

What we dislike: Can sometimes be a challenge to spread because of its thickness.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Top reef-safe sunscreen for the money

TotLogic’s Natural Sunscreen SPF 30

TotLogic’s Natural Sunscreen SPF 30

Our take: A mild yet effective sunscreen at a pleasing price.

What we like: Natural ingredients. Tear-free formula. Safe to use on children as young as six months old.

What we dislike: Can leave a thin white film on the skin.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Worth checking out

All Good’s Organic Sunscreen Butter

All Good’s Organic Sunscreen Butter

Our take: Powerful organic sunscreen that’s respected by the environmental community.

What we like: Only six ingredients provide impressive SPF 50 protection. Water-resistant for up to 81 minutes.

What we dislike: Expensive for a relatively small quantity of sunscreen.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon


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Adam Reeder writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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