11 Best Reef Safe Sunscreens in 2022

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Sunscreen is bad for the ocean. There’s no getting around that.

But some brands of sunblock have a much smaller impact on both the health of coral and on your body. While there’s no substitute for a good UPF layer, you should definitely be taking steps to protect yourself from overexposure.

Fortunately, our experts have done the hard time lounging in the sun to assemble this comprehensive buying guide for our 10 favorite reef safe options for sun protection.

What’s Good for Us, is Good for the Ocean

In this guide we’ll explore both mineral and non-mineral oxybenzone-free sunblocks; ranging from bulk deals for those looking to do the best they can for the world on a budget, to boutiquey craft suntan lotions specifically designed with reef safety in mind. In the end, choosing the right sunblock is about compromise. Obviously it’s better to be protected than to not, but the parameters for deciding which product is for you can vary widely depending on your intentions.

One thing is consistent though, every product covered in this guide is better for your health, and the health of the oceans than most widely available over-the-counter options.

The Top 5 Reef Safe Sunblock in 2022

All the Reef Safe Sunblock We've tested

Badger Balm is one of the biggest names in organic skincare and sun protection products. Similar to Waxhead, you can count the number of ingredients contained within the bottle on one hand.Their commitment to sustainable practices sets the standard for the industry, and the quality of their products is as high as their standard of production.

Badger Balm has a straightforward and intentional approach to sun protection. It’s easy to appreciate how much care they put into their products and into how conscious they are of how sunblock impacts reefs. If you’re looking to actively support a brand that promotes the health of the ocean, any of Badger Balm’s products are a great option.

Specs & Features

  • Available in 35 and 40 SPF
  • Five total ingredients
  • 3.2 oz tube priced around $15

Our Overall Review

4.5

Things we like:

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    Readable, simple ingredients
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    Top safety rating from the EWG
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    Biodegradable
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    Zinc oxide that rubs in clear
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    Built specifically with reef safety in mind

Things we don't like:

  • check-markProduct may separate in the packaging and require additional mixing
  • check-markSome people claim that it washes off easily when exposed to water
  • check-markHigh price point for the amount of product in the package
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Badger Sport Natural Mineral Sunscreen

Maui Naturals products are made in Hawaii by people who know exactly what kind of impact sunscreens can have on their reefs. All of the natural ingredients are grown in Maui, and there isn’t much on the label that can’t be traced to a plant. It’s also highly water resistant.

All Maui Natural’s products are built around protecting the reefs and supporting the communities of Hawaii. The Surfer Honey is a heavy-duty option for those who know they’re going to be spending most of the day in the ocean. Next time you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, try out a sunblock that keeps it local.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 30
  • Zinc Oxide based
  • 3 oz tube priced around $20
  • ”100% Reef Safe”

Our Overall Review

4.3

Things we like:

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    Made in Hawaii with locally sourced ingredients
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    Designed for people spending a lot of time in the water
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    Honey and sunflower oils hydrate the skin
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    No artificial fragrance

Things we don't like:

  • check-markDifficult to rub in
  • check-markPossible residue rubbing off
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Maui Surfer Honey

Banana Boat is a staple brand in mainstream beach culture, and has been trusted by generations of recreators to keep them protected from the sun. While they rely on synthetic chemicals to keep you safe, this product contains neither oxybenzone, nor octinoxate the two most problematic chemicals in most widely available sunscreens.

Though it uses artificial scents and some questionable chemicals, overall the Banana Boat Sport line is a worthwhile product available at a premium. If you are looking for a product for long days in the sun where you know you’ll have to reapply.

Specs & Features

  • Available in 30 and 50 SPF
  • Full Spectrum Protection
  • 8 oz bottle priced around $7
  • Available in bulk

Our Overall Review

4.7

Things we like:

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    Much easier to spread and rub in than its mineral counterparts
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    Excellent value, even better value available in the bul, options
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    Practical, effective, and widely available

Things we don't like:

  • check-markWide use of chemicals that are either unresearched, or proven to have detrimental impacts on health in high doses
  • check-markArtificially scented, which is proven to cause irritation to some skin and sense organs
  • check-markNo specific commitment to protecting coral habitats
  • check-markAvailable in aerosol spray
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Banana Boat Ultra

Waxhead makes a quintessential, no-nonsense, zinc-based sunscreen. Their sunblocks are notable for the lists of what they don’t have in them is longer than the list of actual ingredients. If products were defined purely by utility, this would be at the top of the list. This aggressive, no-nonsense sunscreen uses simple and effective ingredients to accomplish one job: Protect your skin from the sun.

Overall, this product is for utilitarian-minded, environmentally conscious people who have no qualms about backing their beliefs up with money, or displaying them on their face.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 35
  • Full Spectrum Protection
  • 4 oz tube at around $30
  • Vitamin Enriched
  • Biodegradable

Our Overall Review

4.2

Things we like:

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    Six total ingredients, and high degree of source transparency
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    Designed prioritizing human and reef health
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    Tinted varieties available
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    Conservation minded and proponents of green practices

Things we don't like:

  • check-markProduct comes unmixed in the tube, and must be mixed before each use
  • check-markToo thick and filmy to use as an everyday professional product
  • check-markHigh price point given the size of the bottle
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Waxhead Zinc Oxide

Coppertone is another brand that you’re probably familiar with. With a reputation as a trusted brand for athletes, Coppertone Sport sticks tenaciously to slick skin and promises protection UVA and UBV rays for those with an active lifestyle.

Coppertone Sport shines because no matter where you are, it’s probably already there waiting for you. It’s a perfect example of the fact that you don’t need to buy a designer skin product to protect reefs and the power of carefully reading an ingredients list.

Specs & Features

  • 50 SPF Full Spectrum Protection
  • Available in 3 and 7 oz packages
  • Priced around 1.15 per oz
  • Water Resistant

Our Overall Review

4.8

Things we like:

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    Water resistance and athlete specific formula make this a great option for divers
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    Fortified with moisturizers and vitamins to promote skin health
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    Rubs in clean without leaving residue on your skin, or anything you happen to be touching
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    Widely available over the counter

Things we don't like:

  • check-markCoppertone has a very similar product called “non-sport” that has a very similar outward appearance
  • check-markArtificially scented, may cause irritation to sensitive skin
  • check-markMost commonly available as an aerosol
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Coppertone SPORT

MDSolarSciences is another high-end sunscreen manufacturer specifically invested in the health of coral alongside the health of your skin. This particular sunblock comes in the form of a rub on stick, making it a great option for fast and specific protection.

The Mineral Sunscreen Stick is an excellent option for anyone who wants a discreet, high end mineral sunblock less prone to leaving the trademarked “white film” on the face. It’s most likely an option for quick, religion specific application but not appropriate for total body coverage.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 40
  • Zinc Oxide based
  • Rub-on stick application
  • 0.6 oz stick priced around $18

Our Overall Review

4.3

Things we like:

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    The rub on stick format allows for convenient application and transport
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    Designed with sensitive skins in mind, less greasy and likely to clog pores than other mineral sunscreens
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    Perfect for every day use in mind, great option for someone who wants a sunblock that can be used in a professional and recreational setting

Things we don't like:

  • check-markNot a good option for full-body coverage
  • check-markSmall packaging may cause you to run out of sunscreen sooner than you would like
  • check-markAmong the most expensive sunscreens per oz.
Read full review

Where to buy:

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MDSolarSciences Mineral

As far as finding the middle ground between price, practicality, and sustainability goes, Sun Bum is a great compromise. It’s sunscreen that’s just sunscreen. It comes in one of the largest quantities included on this list if you buy it in one of the multipacks, and at close to the lowest price.

Sun Bum is another of those big names in the skin care industry that makes a product worth backing up. Because of the nature of making scented sunscreens, it’s not the most environmentally conscious choice, but for the price and the availability it’s hard to beat.

Specs & Features

  • Available in SPF 30-70
  • 8 oz bottle 2-pack
  • Enriched with vitamin E
  • Priced around $24 for the 2-pack

Our Overall Review

4.8

Things we like:

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    Widely available anywhere sunscreen is sold
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    Hypoallergenic
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    Available in a wide range of strengths and sizes

Things we don't like:

  • check-markArtificial scents that are potentially harmful to skin and ocean
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Sun Bum

We discussed Neutrogena’s zinc-based products in the last section, but they also have a number of non-mineral options for those who want protection that will rub in. Among the best of these in terms of reef health are their oil free series. Less oil means less clogged pores and less gunk washed off into the seas.

Neutrogena makes products for people who care about their skin health. Their oil free series have the added benefit of being better for the oceans as well. Most importantly they tend to not use artificial fragrances in their sunscreen, which are commonly the most dangerous health elements in sunscreens.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 30
  • 5 oz
  • Priced around $20 per bottle
  • Sheer Rub in

Our Overall Review

4

Things we like:

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    Fragrance free
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    Safe for sensitive skin
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    One of the safest non-mineral options for the oceans and for you
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    Readily available

Things we don't like:

  • check-markPriced much higher than other non-mineral sunscreens
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Neutrogena Clear

In a similar fashion to Neutorgena’s push to give consumers power over their skincare, Alba Botanica seeks to make high quality skin protection specifically without compromising the health of coral reefs. They specifically advertise themselves as not containing the two “Bad O’s” of the sunscreen world and the fragrance free version specifically is an excellent option for the ecologically conscious skincare enthusiast.

Alba Botanica got some pushback years ago for purportedly changing their formula and including some irritants for the sake of scent. As of 2020 they hold the second highest rating the EWG can give a sunblock, and seem to have figured out an awesome product that doest compromise on the health of their customers or the health of the ocean.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 30
  • 4 oz bottle
  • Priced around $8
  • Vegetarian Ingredients
  • No Animal Testing

Our Overall Review

4.4

Things we like:

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    Specific commitment to coral health
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    Values the well being of their customer base
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    Fragrance free as always is a good thing
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    High quality product

Things we don't like:

  • check-markSmall Bottle size makes it less practical for heavy use
  • check-markReported to be less effective after being in the water for a long time
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Alba Botanica

In terms of EWG rankings for non-mineral sunscreens, the ironically named Seven Minerals brand takes the cake. From the package to the product, their sunscreens are designed with the utmost standard of excellence and thoughtfulness.

If you’re looking for a product that puts the same amount of care into protecting our oceans as one of the mineral based sunscreens at the start of the guide, but doesn’t use zinc or titanium as the active ingredient, Seven Minerals is the way to go.

Specs & Features

  • SPF 30
  • 8 oz bottle priced around $14
  • Contains Aloe and Vitamin E

Our Overall Review

4.6

Things we like:

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    At the crossroads of value and utility, great high end product for the price
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    Packaging made from recycled ocean plastics
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    Reef conscious philosophy
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    Skin sensitive
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    Scent Free

Things we don't like:

  • check-markIt doesn’t come in a bigger bottle, we want more
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Seven Minerals

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In Conclusion

Ultimately, sun protection is about compromise and balance. We should strive to not rely on sunscreen for our primary source of sun protection, but realistically it is something that we still need. I think that using a variety of strategies to protect ourselves is the way forward, and best practices may end up looking like wearing a UPF and avoiding the sun during high-risk periods, while a combination of non-mineral sunblocks for total coverage and mineral products on high-risk areas could be a great option for non direct sunlight.

In any case, I hope you found this guide helpful, and that moving forward you feel better informed to make the best decision for you, and for the ocean, when it comes to sun protection.

If you have additional questions about our parameters for rating these products, or want to know more about reef safe sunscreen, check out our buyer’s guide below.

FAQ

Frequently asked questions

Why is Sunscreen Bad for the Ocean?

The short answer is “because it washes off”.

As a general rule, we don’t do local ecosystems any favors when we dump foreign chemicals into them, and this problem is exasperated by the large numbers of people that tend to congregate around beaches and fragile marine habitats. As we mentioned in our list of favorites above, sunscreen is a game of lesser evils, and the chemicals used in most widely-available sunblocks are the most egregious offenders.

How Are Sunscreen Rated?

In this guide considered products based off of three criteria: protection, practicality, and environmental impact.

Protection = The sunblock significantly filtered out the sun’s rays and is water resistant

Practicality = How widely available the product is, and factors regarding ease of use

Environmental Impact = What sort of chemicals/minerals does this product employs

Beyond this, the Environmental Working Group publishes a yearly database cataloguing the specific chemical breakdown of a litany of sunblocks. It’s a great resource if you have questions about a specific product that extend beyond the scope of this guide, or want to do some research on brands not listed here.

What About SPF?

Beyond around 50 SPF, there is no correlation between higher SPF ratings and additional actual sun protection. In fact, there are several reasons why high SPF ratings aren’t a great criteria to base sunblock judgements

First, these products don’t actually offer as much protection as they advertise. Beyond a certain point, more chemicals just means more chemicals, no added benefits.High SPF products have been shown to be misused by consumers who overestimate the sunblocks ability to keep them safe, leading to overexposure.

Ingredients to watch for: The “Bad O’s” and Beyond

The main chemical culprits are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in about 40% of commercially available sunblocks. These are the two “Bad O’s” of the sunscreen world and seeing them pop up on an ingredient list should be your biggest red flag when investigating new skin care options.

Not only do these chemicals cause issues with the development of juvenile corals and sea life, they have been shown to build up in the human bloodstream in as little as a single use.

Another rule of thumb to follow is to rule out any aerosol sunscreens. These are specifically problematic in areas of high visitation because they have the tendency to end up getting sprayed on the sand during the application process, and as a result get washed directly into the ocean and marine habitats.

Products that are heavily artificially fragranced are usually best avoided as well.

How “Safe” is Reef Safe?

If our goal is to have the smallest possible impact on the ocean, while providing ourselves the most possible protection, the answer is “it isn’t.” In the same way, it’s hard to prevent chemicals and free-radicals from leaching into your skin after long term use.

From an ethical and utilitarian standpoint, we should rely on UPF clothing and placing other physical barriers between our bodies and the sun; sunscreen should be used only as a last resort tactic. If I’m being realistic though, standing in the sun feels good and I’m going to keep using sunblock because I’m heavily invested in my long term wellbeing.

As mentioned in our article above, there’s a definite trend of products that are built with coral habitats in mind being as a whole better for our individual health. While “Reef Safe” doesn’t completely solve the problem for us, it’s a great place to start.

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