The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands
Reviews,  Travel Lifestyle,  Travel Tips

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

Discover the best reef safe sunscreen brands according to experienced travel bloggers.

Did you know that over 3,500 of the sunscreens currently available can damage marine ecosystems, in particular coral reefs, and that between 6,000 and 14,000 tonnes of this stuff ends up in these areas each year?

The danger lies in the chemicals they’re made of. They may be great as UV blockers for our own skin, but they’re doing untold damage to small marine life, from mussels and fish to the coral that sustains them. Not only can these damage the DNA of coral, stopping them from growing and reproducing, they can also cause hormonal changes and deformities in fish.

The issue is so bad that some destinations, like Hawaii, Key West and resort towns in Mexico, have gone as far as banning any products that include certain ingredients.

What chemicals should you avoid in sunscreen?

With all this in mind it’s important for sun worshipers and skin protectors to make sure they pick a product with reef safe sunscreen ingredients.

‘Bad’ chemicals to look out for on packaging include oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3) octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate and homosalate.

Instead look for a mineral or zinc-based sunscreen that blocks the sun’s rays by using titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. But be aware than these aren’t without their own problems, as some include nano zinc oxide which can also be dangerous to marine life!

How to know if a sunscreen is reef friendly

If you’re looking for the best eco friendly sunscreen, keep an eye open for logos that imply a product is reef friendly – for example the Ocean Conservancy logo – but be aware that the term reef friendly isn’t regulated, so don’t take any packaging statements as given.  This means it can be harder than you think to pick a truly reef friendly sun tan cream or lotion from the wide variety now available.

According to Save the Reef, the only way to ensure what you buy is definitely coral reef and marine life safe is to check the ingredients for the Haeretivcus Environmental Laboratories’ (HEL) list of harmful ingredients. These are the following:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene*
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or nano-sized zinc or titanium. The organisation advises that if it doesn’t explicitly say micro-size or non-nano and can rub in without leaving a white film then it’s probably nano-sized.
  • Any form of microplastic, such as exfoliating beads.

*According to the basic research I have done, octocrylene hasn’t been proven to damage coral specifically, however it has been shown to have an effect on fish. Perhaps this is why it’s made it onto HELs bad list. However, as it doesn’t affect coral directly, some ‘coral reef safe sun screen’ brands still use this as an ingredient. Several have been included in this round up, but are clearly flagged for readers so you have the knowledge and choice to decide whether this is a product you’d be happy to use…

HEL also certifies products, so if you see the Protect Land + Sea Certified logo that’s a good indication that it’s safe for marine life.

Sunscreen for snorkelers and scuba fans!

We recently went to the Maldives on holiday and planned to spend as much time as possible out in the water, exploring the coral reefs and getting up close and personal with the local marine life.

With this in mind I wanted to make sure that the sunscreen I used wouldn’t do any damage and so contacted some reputable companies to try out their reef safe sunscreens.

We took three different types with us, all of which did a good job of protecting both my skin and the coral, but some were better than others when it came to application and length of protection.

I wondered how the other options out there compared to those I tried and so I called on my blogger friends to share their own experiences of reef-friendly sunscreens and put together this guide to the best reef safe sunscreen brands for travellers to use whenever they hit the beach.

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen

Theresa – Fueled By Wanderlust

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen is a line of mineral-based, reef-friendly sunscreens for the body and face. The lotions have a natural light scent that is pleasant and not overpowering. The body lotions come in SPF 30, 50, and 70, while the face lotion is tinted and comes in SPF 50.  

Australian Gold’s Botanical Sunscreen for the body is formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and the lotion is white in colour. When applying, the lotion dispenses from a squeeze tube and spreads very nicely with a matte, velvety finish. Unlike more traditional mineral sunscreens, Australian Gold is not pasty or sticky and rubs in quickly.

Australian Gold also offers an SPF 50 tinted sunscreen for the face, and can save you space on your beach packing list, since it also doubles as a BB cream. This lotion comes in three lightweight hues, has a matte finish and doesn’t feel oily. Like the body sunscreen, the face lotion rubs in and dries very quickly. 

While Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen for the body generally doesn’t leave stains on clothing, it’s a good idea to take care when using the tinted face lotion. The beige/brown sunscreens do run the risk of leaving stains behind on light-coloured clothing.

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Lotion is available in 15, 30 and 50 SPF from Amazon starting from £18.

Banana Boat

Elizabeth, Three Week Traveller

*Editor’s note – this sunscreen does include Octocrylene as an ingredient!

I’ve tried many sunscreens since I travel full-time – it’s something I always have when packing for a trip. I’ve tried sunscreen from cheap to expensive brands and only one was suitable for me. All other products cause breakouts on my skin and most stained my swimsuit and towels. However, I stumbled upon Banana Boat in a convenience store and gave it a shot. Since then, I haven’t bought any other brand!

I hate applying sunscreen as it makes you feel like you can’t touch, sit, or do anything until the sunscreen is dry. Some sunscreen makes your skin hot and it feels like your skin can’t breathe. There are also sunscreens that keeps your skin covered in white liquid, which is very annoying. But Banana Boat dries easily on your skin and doesn’t have a strong, overpowering scent.

What I love most about this brand however, is how it doesn’t ruin my swimsuit with stains or irritate my skin and I recently learned that all Banana Boat sunscreen products are reef safe. You can find different sunscreen for different ages and even different sports (water activity, running, etc).

Banana Boat sunscreens are available on Amazon from £12.

Coppertone Pure & Simple

Annick, The Common Traveler

Looking for a sprayable reef-friendly sunscreen? Then consider adding Coppertone’s Pure & Simple to your beach bag. This 100% mineral sunscreen provides an SPF of 50.

Touted by the brand many of us grew up using, Pure & Simple reflects the company’s move into modern times. The sunscreen is free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, PABA, parabens, dyes, or fragrances, making it the perfect alternative for those with sensitivities and allergies.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen is water resistant for 80 minutes. If water activities are not involved, Pure & Simple will need to be re-applied every two hours or so. As with all sunscreens, this spray should be applied at least 15 minutes prior to going out into the sun. Due to its quick-drying nature, you don’t have to wait to get dressed, an essential in places like Aruba with strong sun.

To apply Pure & Simple, spray in from about 4-6 inches away. While the directions say to apply it liberally, I found it easier to apply to small areas at a time and by moving over the area fairly quickly. Just as with other mineral sunscreens, this spray releases a thick white spray that creates a physical barrier. You’ll need to rub it into the skin and it will leave a slight white cast, but it doesn’t leave the skin feeling greasy. Instead, wearers will feel like their skin is moisturised rather than sticky. To apply it to the face, spray it into the palms first. It does not stain clothing. The good news is that with its colour, it is easy to see where it has been applied so that you don’t miss any areas.

Pure & Simple is perfect for application on children or anyone else who dislikes the greasy feeling of mineral sunscreen.

Coppertone Pure & Simple is available on Amazon from £17.

Forever Living Aloe Sunscreen

Keri, Ladies What Travel

*Editor’s note – this sunscreen does include Octocrylene as an ingredient!

Part of the reason I’ve kept the sunscreens with octocrylene in this list is to help people understand that there isn’t any certification around reef friendly sunscreens and an agreed definition doesn’t yet exist. Forever Living’s Aloe Sunscreen was sold to me as a reef safe option, but when I looked through the fine print after using the product, I found that the ingredients included octocrylene.

I was gutted to discover that I’d unknowingly used a sunscreen some consider unsafe for fish, but on the flip side, I have to also say that no ingredients in this product are considered dangerous for coral itself.

In the end its down to customer choice and knowledge and this example highlights why it’s important to do thorough research if something is truly important to you.

That issue aside, I have to give a fair review to the Forever Living Aloe Sunscreen, and it was a good protector from the sun. It’s known, in particular, for its strong protection against UVA rays, and was a well-spreading thick cream. It took a little longer for the white film to clear than other sunscreens I tried; however it lasted well and did the job it was designed for.

Forever Living Aloe Sunscreen is available on Amazon from £17.50.

Garnier Ambre Solaire Eco-Designed Protection Lotion

Keri, Ladies What Travel

I’ve regularly used Ambre Solaire over the years, so was really happy to see that this big brand had brought out a reef-safe sun lotion.

As it’s a lotion rather than a cream, it goes on quicker and easier than some of the options on our list and feels more like a normal body lotion than sunscreen.  I do think you need to slather on a hell of a lot more to get the same level of protection however, and I did top it up several times in the day – and always after I got out of the sea. (Note, I used the 30SPF version, a 50SPF is also available.)

Pros however, include the fact it has pretty good water resistance, isn’t oily or greasy and dries quickly without leaving the smears I’ve been used to in the past.

Garnier Ambre Solaire eco-designed protection lotion is available on Amazon from £7.

Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30

Keri, Ladies What Travel

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

Out of the three sunscreens I tried during my Maldives trip the Green People sun cream was my favourite. At 30SPF it’s great for pale skinned people like me, who usually burn within two minutes out in the sun.

The thick cream dispenses from a squeezy tube and a little goes a long way, so remember to apply it sparingly. It does leave a white film but this dries and disappears very quickly and provided me with really great protection the entire day, with only one or two top up applications needed.

When I wore this, I didn’t burn at all – which is a rarity – and even managed to catch a slight tan. This is another rarity as with other creams I have to slather so much on that I don’t think any rays get to my skin!

Scent-free, it’s great for sensitive skin and provides protection through a number of marine friendly sun filters including titanium dioxide and non-nano zinc oxide, meaning you know it’s safe for the environment.

Green People also offers a similar facial sun cream with green tea extract and olive oil. This dispenses via a little pump and I loved it, as it didn’t leave my skin spotty or run into my eyes and irritate them, as others usually do. I simply put a little on after applying my normal moisturiser and for the first time in forever I didn’t get a bright red nose – that’s a win!

Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30 is available on Amazon from £17.95.

Hawaiian Tropic Hydrating Sunscreen

Victoria, Guide your Travel

*Editor’s note – this sunscreen does include Octocrylene as an ingredient!

Hawaiian Tropic is one of the most well-known sunscreen brands in the world and their hydrating sunscreen is pricey but definitely worth it. The smell is absolutely amazing with hints of sweet coconut. It applies well and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Since the sunscreen isn’t completely white but rather a tan colour it doesn’t leave you with a white tint on your skin.

The best part is that the Hawaiian Tropic hydrating sunscreen (and most others from this brand) is reef safe. That means you can buy it with a clear conscience and wear it everywhere you go, even when you’re swimming in the ocean.

Hawaiian Tropic is available all around the world although it’s definitely expensive. The comfortable feel and amazing smell makes it a great sunscreen when you’re travelling though, and I personally think it’s one of the top backpacker must-haves.

Hawaiian Tropic Sunscreen is available on Amazon from £6.

Maya Solar

Brodi, Our Offbeat Life

Maya Solar is one of the most popular ecologically friendly sunscreens in Mexico. It’s sold throughout Riviera Maya, where nature tourism is very popular. Although the sunscreen packaging claims it lasts around two hours, the reality is it needs to be reapplied every hour or so. Thankfully, it is very water-resistant and good for swimming at both cenotes and eco-parks. 

Maya Solar dispenses smoothly and with a creamy texture. Sometimes the product separates a bit when it has been sitting a while, so it’s very important to shake it before applying. Having the dispenser at the bottom of the standing tube also helps to ensure that the product isn’t wasted. 

When the sunscreen is applied, it is no oilier than a traditional sunscreen. There may be a faint reflection on the skin where it’s applied, but one only sees the difference if they’re really looking for it. There is a faint white residue for a minute or two, but it fades once it fully soaks into the skin. It also doesn’t have a weird smell, which kids appreciate. With an SPF of 50+, Maya Solar is a solid sunscreen for any traveller to add to their sun protection routine.

Stream2Sea 

Melinda, Mel On The Go

A reef safe brand designed by a scuba diver, Stream2Sea sun cream protects your skin, but more importantly, it protects the ocean and our planet.

I first discovered this product when taking PADI pro courses in Utila, where it’s endorsed by the dive professionals who are very invested in protecting reefs!

Stream2Sea sunscreen is very thick and very white, so there is a trick to applying it: use only a little at a time. Rub a small amount into your hand first, and then massage it into your face. A little goes a long way with this sunscreen, so if you don’t want to look like a capuchin monkey, follow this advice. Use only a dab, apply slowly, and you’ll be fine. Once it’s on, you won’t feel it, just use sparingly. This product is strong and will last while you’re in the water and out. And no worries about getting it on your clothes as it doesn’t stain and rinses off in the wash.

Extra tip ­– Stream2Sea offers a whole line of reef safe products for skin, hair, and lips. My favourite Stream2Sea product is the leave-in conditioner, which is perfect for dive intervals when you can’t rinse in fresh water. 

Sun Bum

Allison, Viva La Travelista

*Editor’s note – some Sun Bum sunscreens do include Octocrylene as an ingredient.

Reef-friendly and vegan, Sun Bum is a biodegradable sunscreen brand that comes in a variety of types including lotions, sprays, roll-ons, and face sticks. UV protection ranges from SPF 15 all the way to SPF 70 for the highest sun protection. Other Sun Bum products include after sun care, lip balms and baby sunscreen, all of which are reef-friendly, vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, paraben-free and sulfate-free. 

The most convenient option is the Sun Bum sunscreen spray which is an ultra sheer/dry touch continuous spray delivering broad-spectrum protection. After applying, Sun Bum sunscreen spray dries quickly and doesn’t leave a residue. With minimal scent, the clear spray also moisturises your skin with Vitamin E and should be re-applied after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating.

As a Playa del Carmen, Mexico-based travel blogger, Sun Bum has been my biodegradable sunscreen of choice and an absolutely essential item for snorkeling tours and cenote visits in order to protect the marine ecosystems and preserve the fragile coral reefs. 

Sun Bum sunscreens are available on Amazon from £15.59.

ThinkBaby

Dani Ward, Diapers in Paradise

Families who’re heading to the beach with a baby need to choose a sunscreen that is not only safe for marine life, but also safe for babies. Why? Because babies put everything in their mouths… including their own sunscreened hands and arms.

ThinkBaby sunscreen is not only reef-safe (and non-toxic if it ends up in the mouth), but it also provides fantastic protection. It is a zinc-based sunscreen, meaning that it forms a solid protective barrier. And with babies, you need to be absolutely sure that you’ve got that precious new skin protected every time you go out in the sun.

All zinc-based sunscreens are harder to apply than sprays and ThinkBaby is no exception. You need to take the time to rub it in all over your little one. But it provides several hours of complete protection, and while you will ideally reapply every 2 or 3 hours, we’ve gone the whole day with a single application without getting any redness.

We’ve tried a number of mineral sunscreens with our baby, and found ThinkBaby to spread the easiest. It goes on thick, but once it’s rubbed in, it doesn’t leave white streaks, grayish skin tone, or oiliness. It’s comfortable to wear for babies or adults… and if you are traveling with a baby, you might want to consider using it for yourself anywhere that your baby might try to slobber on you.

ThinkBaby sunscreen is available on Amazon from £19.99.

Tropic

Jenni, Chilling with Lucas

I love Tropic skincare. All of the products are vegan, cruelty free and Tropic’s a carbon neutral company. The suncare range all carries the Protect Land + Sea logo, which means it’s certified reef-safe.

I use the Great Barrier sun lotion on my body and used to use the Skin Shade Tinted Facial Cream. However, for the past two years I’ve used Tropic’s Sun Day facial cream. It’s broad-spectrum, so my skin is protected from both UVA and UVB rays. I apply it after my usual face moisturiser. It’s very easy to apply, glides onto my skin beautifully and dries straight away. If I’m applying before I go out in the evening, I can apply my makeup straight away – I don’t need to wait for it soak in and it also acts as a fab primer!

It doesn’t leave a residue on my skin or stain my clothes, which I have found with other reef safe brands. It also smells delicious, like a banana fruit salad.

The best reef safe sunscreen brands

I hope this guide helps you out – and would love to hear your own experiences with eco-friendly sunscreens. Please do share them in the comments box below, and don’t forget to add this pin to your Pinterest boards for later reference!


Full disclosure: Several of these products were provided at no cost, but all reviews are my honest, unbiased opinions.

This post also contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy something via the link, it helps support our website. Please be aware there’s no extra cost to you though, so thanks for your support! 

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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