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All About Reef Safe Sunscreen

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Simple habits like this can take a toll—it’s estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions end up in coral reefs each year (Wagner).

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

In short reef-safe sunscreen does not contain the same chemicals as traditional sunscreen preventing coral bleaching and damage to marine life. Reef Safe sunscreen is also known as mineral sunscreen because it is mainly made of minerals, not chemicals. The infographic provides a simple overview of the dangers of chemicals used in sunscreen. It is essential to protect these lives simply because it is the right thing to do and to keep the ecosystem alive. Additionally, for those of you who decide to eat fish, do you want to be consuming chemicals you cannot even pronounce? Just some food for thought...

Is Reef Safe Sunscreen effective?

Mineral-based sunscreen does not work the same way as chemical-based sunscreen. Think of Reef Safe sunscreen as a shield and traditional sunscreen as a protective potion, the former sits atop the skin to block UV rays, the latter absorbs into the skin to protect it. Overall, both sunscreens should be effective as long as you are getting at least SPF 15 and broad-spectrum, as your skin needs protection against UV A and UV B rays.

Reef Safe Sunscreen Ingredients vs Chemical Ingredients

Reef Safe Sunscreen ingredients will vary by brand and by product, so as always, be sure to read the labels when purchasing anything. Surprisingly, the FDA has declared two common ingredients found in mineral sunscreen, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide, ~generally~ safe and effective. The FDA wants more data on the other main ingredients to conclude potential health concerns from chemical elements (Capritto). In reef-safe sunscreen, make sure that there are non-nano sized ingredients and NOT nano, nano ingredients can still be harmful to marine life. Another thing to keep in mind is that simpler is better, even seemingly good ingredients like plant-based oils can be dangerous. The graphic above lists these ingredients as harmful to aquatic life: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methyl benzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide.

What's better for my skin?

Your skin does absorb chemicals from products, meaning that the chemicals found in sunscreens do absorb into your skin, but whether or not chemical-based sunscreen will cause long term health effects is undetermined. There is no scientific evidence (yet) that chemical sunscreen is dangerous for your skin or health. The most important thing for your skin is that you have some type of sun protection, whether it be sunscreen or protective clothing. UV rays do age you!! When I was a door to door salesperson, I once met a woman who was in her 60s, but I promise you did not even look 40. Her skin barely had wrinkles or spots, which I found incredible—her two pieces of advice: start using the Olay Red Jar and sunscreen. So if you want to stay looking young, protect your skin! Needless to say, that was the moment I began accepting my pale af skin and stopped trying to tan. Oh, and I also bought the Olay red jar... I will let you know when I'm 60 how I look.

Is spray sunscreen bad for the environment?

The issue with spray sunscreen is that it sticks to the sand, which eventually gets washed into the ocean, and then the chemicals wreak havoc on wildlife. So even if you're unsure of switching to a mineral-based sunscreen, choosing a lotion will still help the fishies out.

Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

After reading about Reef Safe Sunscreen, there are a ton of brands that exist, yay! But that means more choices for you. So what do I recommend? Since I have not tried any, I can only make a judgment based on my research. I came across a brand: Stream2Sea featured in a Vogue article. "All of the formulas have passed numerous independent, clinical ecotoxicity tests," not to mention they are biodegradable. Stream2Sea also has hair and body wash products that are safe for marine life. A great benefit is that they also sell tinted sunscreen, that way you can avoid whiter skin and look tanner for insta. You can buy Stream2Sea products from EarthHero and get 5% off using my link! Although there are a ton of other brands to choose from and places to shop, do your homework and pick the best one for you.


Capritto, Amanda. “Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Is One Safer than the Other?” CNET, CNET, 11 June 2020,

Infographic: “Sunscreen Chemicals and Coral Reefs.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, 1 Nov. 2018,,corals%20and%20other%20marine%20life.&text=The%20compound%20has%20been%20found,directly%20from%20swimmers%20wearing%20sunscreens.

Wagner, Laura. “Chemicals In Sunscreen Are Harming Coral Reefs, Says New Study.” NPR, NPR, 20 Oct. 2015,

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