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10 Eco-friendly Sunscreens (That Are Biodegradable and Reef-Safe)

Sunburn is a common problem for outdoor lovers. Sunscreen is our solution but few of us look past the SPF rating. If you have read through the ingredients then you’re probably confused as to what all these chemicals are. Without a science degree, it’s difficult to know which are eco-friendly sunscreens, which are biodegradable, and which are contributing to ocean pollution. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the health implications of slathering chemical-filled cream all over our skin.

I’d love to ditch sunscreen altogether but without it, my nose would be as bright as a Sicilian tomato within a few short hours. Avoiding the hottest hours of the day is the best skin protection available but that’s far from practical during many outdoor activities. Wearing clothing with UV protection minimizes the amount of sunscreen we need to use, but we still need protection for the hands, face, and neck. UV rays are dangerous, especially while out on the snow or in the water.

When we swim, 25% of sunscreen ingredients are left in the water. These sunscreen chemicals, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, cause damage to coral reefs. There’s no doubt that sunscreen is an essential part of our outdoor kit but how do we protect our skin and the environment at the same time?

We need to know which sunscreens are harmful to marine life and which are considered reef-safe. Especially when visiting popular water sports areas.

What you should know about eco-friendly sunscreen

What is reef-safe sunscreen?

Eco-friendly sunscreen has been around for a while but it’s become more popular since 2018, when Hawaii banned the use of oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens. The term reef-safe or reef-friendly usually refers to sunscreen that does not contain these two toxic ingredients. Reef-safe or mineral sunscreens are usually made from natural ingredients that cause less damage to marine life.

How do you know if sunscreen is reef safe?

It’s important to note that the term ‘reef safe’ currently has no solid definition. Manufacturers do not need to prove that their sunscreen is safe for coral reefs. Therefore, sunscreens labelled as reef safe may not be as eco-friendly as they appear. To know for sure, we need to check the ingredients list or buy a cream that’s approved by an environmental organisation such as Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Ingredients to avoid

Studies have shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate can deform baby corals and increase corals susceptibility to bleaching and coral viruses. These chemicals are the worst offenders but they are not the only chemical sunscreen ingredients that harm the environment. Homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone also pose environmental and health concerns.

Other ingredients to avoid include, parabens, 4-methyl benzylidene camphor, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), and triclosan.

Ingredients to look for

Zinc oxide is usually the active ingredient used in chemical-free sunscreens. Zinc oxide is biodegradable and is not linked to any health concerns. However, zinc oxide sunscreens with non-nano-sized particles may be safer for coral reefs than zinc oxide sunscreens with nano-sized particles.

Are eco-friendly sunscreens also vegan-friendly?

Most eco-friendly and biodegradable sunscreens are made from natural and organic ingredients. Many manufacturers are certified cruelty-free by The Leaping Bunny, however, eco-friendly sunscreen ingredients usually include beeswax as a sticking agent. Most are therefore vegetarian-friendly but not strictly vegan. Comparatively, many chemical sunscreens are tested on animals and reef-safe sunscreens with organic beeswax are a better choice for vegans than typical sunscreens.


10 reef-safe and eco-friendly sunscreen options

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Raw Elements Face + Body SPF 30 Sunscreen Tin

Raw Elements Face + Body SPF 30 Sunscreen Tin

The Raw Elements Face + Body SPF 30 Sunscreen contains all-natural, biodegradable, and organic ingredients, including green tea, sunflower oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax. The active ingredient is 23% non-nano zinc oxide which provides broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays.

This Raw Elements sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it ideal for surfing or a kayaking excursion. It doesn’t run so you can use this sunscreen on a hot and sweaty hike, too. It’s a reef-safe sunscreen that’s suitable for children and people with soy, nut, and gluten allergies. To add to that, it’s also sold in a recyclable tin.

Extra info:

  • Non-GMO

  • Scented with rosemary oil extract
  • Certified cruelty-free
  • Raw Elements support 1% for the planet

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Two Peas Organics Sunscreen Stick

Two Peas Organics Sunscreen Stick

This solid sunscreen stick is easy to apply, water-resistant and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes. It’s also competitively priced. Moisturising ingredients, such as organic coconut oil, aloe vera, and shea butter prevent the skin from drying. Plus, this reef-friendly sunscreen is hypoallergenic, meaning that it’s gentle enough to use on babies, kids, and adults with sensitive skin. Despite this, it still provides broad 30 SPF protection from UVA and UVB rays.

The only downsides are that the plastic container is not recyclable and the nano-free zinc oxide (20%) formula leaves some whiteness on the skin.

Extra info:

  • Biodegradable ingredients

  • Fragrance-free
  • Certified cruelty-free

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


All Good SPF 50+ Zinc Sunscreen Butter

All Good SPF 50+ Zinc Sunscreen Butter

Made with just six organic ingredients and 25% non-nano zinc oxide, the All Good SPF 50+ Zinc is a pocket-sized sunscreen to take on your outdoor adventure. Its small size makes it ideal for outdoor activities without a backpack. Pop it into the pocket of your running belt, surf shorts, or camera bag. Plus, it comes in a plastic-free, recyclable (or reusable) tin. Another big tick for mother earth! The ingredients are also biodegradable.

The high SPF 50+ protection makes it one of the best natural sunscreens for surfers but it’s also designed for extreme conditions. Sunny days in the snow, for example. It’s worth noting, however, that this sunscreen works best on hydrated skin and may not be the best option for people with dry skin or those travelling in dry climates.

Extra info:

  • Water-resistant (80 minutes)

  • GMO and gluten-free
  • Best for use on face and ears

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Waxhead Reef Safe Sunscreen

Waxhead Reef Safe Sunscreen

Waxhead Reef Safe Sunscreen is another pocket-sized and reasonably priced natural sunscreen. It’s made with biodegradable 25% non-nano zinc oxide and three certified organic ingredients, extra virgin coconut oil, beeswax, and vanilla extract. It takes a little longer to apply than chemical sunscreen and may leave some whiteness, however, Waxhead Reef Safe Sunscreen does provide broad-spectrum protection. It’s water-resistant for 80+ minutes too. The product is fragrance-free, suitable for sensitive skin, and suitable for people with soy, dairy, or gluten allergies.

Extra info:

  • Bio-degradable and petrochemical-free

  • Non-GMO
  • Certified cruelty-free
  • Safe to use on babies
  • Comes in a recyclable metal tin
  • Waxhead uses green practices in production, packaging, and distribution.
  • The company has the highest rating from the EWG and donates to the Coastal Conservation Alliance.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

Developed on the sunny shores of Hawaii, Kokua reef-safe sunscreen is the best marine friendly sunscreen on the market. Its single active ingredient is 25% non-nano zinc oxide that provides 50 SPF protection from UVA and UVB rays. All other ingredients, such as spirulina, Hawaiian coffee fruit extract, and macadamia nut oil, are non-toxic but also nourishing for the skin. The cream feels light, it’s sweat-resistant and rubs in clear. It doesn’t run and is safe to use on babies and sensitive skin.

Extra info:

  • Water-resistant (80 minutes)

  • Contains 23 antioxidants (7 of which are grown in Hawaii)
  • Rated ‘1’ by the EWG

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 sunscreen is one of the few Vegan-friendly reefs-safe sunscreen sprays on the market. It’s water-resistant and protects from broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays. Plus, it’s gluten-free and safe to use on sensitive skin.

Although it is a reef-safe sunscreen, containing 14% non-nano zinc oxide and non-chemical ingredients, it’s rated 3/10 by the EWG and may not be the most eco-friendly sunscreen out there. It’s also worth noting that the concentration of zinc oxide is lower than others on this list. It is, therefore, best for outdoor adventures in normal sun rather than extreme conditions.

Key features:

  • Vegan-friendly

  • Chemical-free
  • Rated ‘3’ by the EWG

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Badger Balm SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream

Badger Balm SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream

Water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, Badger Balm SPF 35 Sport is one of the best waterproof sunscreens for surfers. It’s biodegradable and protects from UVA and UVB rays.

Its active ingredient is 22.5% uncoated clear zinc oxide which is reef-safe, moisturising and rubs in clear. Unlike other sunscreens, this one feels light on the skin. We like that this Badger Balm sunscreen has just five ingredients, 98% certified organic and 100% GMO-free. It’s suitable for a range of skin types, including sensitive skin, and because it’s fragrance-free, you can pair it with your favourite scent, post-surf – obviously!

Extra info:

  • Hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic

  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten-free
  • Certified cruelty-free

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30

Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30

Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen is handmade in Hawaii from natural and organic ingredients such as coconut oil safflower oil, and shea butter. The cream is lightweight and slightly fragranced. It comes in a biodegradable cardboard container. That helps to reduce waste on your next camping trip but it’s not the most practical container for water sports.

One disadvantage is that the Mama Kuleana Reef Safe sunscreen is only water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. You’ll, therefore, need to apply it more frequently than other eco-friendly sunscreens if you’re in and out of the water.

Extra info:

  • Contains non-nano zinc oxide (concentration not listed)

  • Sold in 2oz containers
  • Handmade in Hawaii

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


MANDA Organic Sun Paste

MANDA Organic Sun Paste

MANDA Organic Sun Paste is one of the most expensive, but also one of the best, eco-friendly sunscreens on this list. With active 23% non-nano zinc oxide, this biodegradable sunscreen is safe for coral reefs. All its inactive ingredients are natural, certified organic, and of food-grade standard.

It’s designed for extreme days in the great outdoors. This high SPF reef-safe sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection for surfers and hikers. It does leave a slightly white paste on your face but not as severe as other sunscreens. The paste comes in a pocket-sized reusable wooden box with a built-in mirror inside the lid.

Extra info:

  • Water and sweat-resistant

  • SPF 50
  • Contains 20% non-nano zinc oxide
  • Products are not tested on animals

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


YeaBah Biodegradable Tinted Face Stick

YeaBah Biodegradable Tinted Face Stick

If you only need to protect your face while outside, the Yeabah biodegradable Tinted Face Stick is a compact sunscreen that’s specifically designed for facial use. At just 0.5 oz, this sunscreen is small enough to tuck into your wetsuit pocket or running belt. Plus, it’s packaged in a wax-coated cardboard container that’s biodegradable.

The tinted face stick contains 20% non-nano zinc oxide and just 6 natural inactive ingredients, including beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter. Cocoa Powder is added to make the tinted version. This waxy cream sticks to the face, providing UVA and UVB protection even while sweating or in the water.

Extra info:

  • SPF 25

  • Should be reapplied 80-120 minutes after swimming/sweating
  • Available in two shades (white or tinted)

Find the latest price at:
Yeabah

About the author

author-beth

Originally from the UK and currently based in Turkey, Beth Carter is a full-time adventurer, former scout, and vegan traveller. When she’s not hiking long-distance trails with an oversized pack on her shoulders, you’ll probably find her peddling up and down scenic roads, or pitching a tent in a far-off mountain range. On the odd occasion, you might even see her sitting at a keyboard, coffee at the ready, typing about her latest outdoor pursuit.

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