ICYMI, our coral reefs are in a not-so-great place right now—as in, they're dying at an alarmingly fast rate. And while a lot of that has to do with climate change and rising ocean temps, some of the damage also has to do with our sunscreen. Yup, I'm talking about the sunscreen that you (hopefully?) slather on your body while spending the day at the beach or swimming in the ocean.
How does sunscreen harm coral reefs?
Okay, so even though they may be perfectly safe for humans, certain chemicals that are commonly used in conventional sunscreen—specifically oxybenzone and octinoxate—can accumulate in coral tissue and make them sick (and yes, coral is a living thing, so it can become "sick"). When coral gets sick, it often turns white, or “bleaches," and then dies. And not to be an alarmist or anything, but it’s estimated that up to 14,000 tons (!!!) of sunscreen with these chemicals get washed into coral reefs every year. Umm, that's a lot of dead and dying coral.
What makes a reef-safe sunscreen?
TBH it's kinda unclear. The term "reef-safe" isn’t actually regulated, so you can’t just assume any old sunscreen bottle with those words slapped on the label is actually safe for reefs (wild, I know.) That said, sunscreens that use mineral or physical UV blockers, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, are considered are safer for coral reefs. And because I know you don't have time to read every ingredient label you come across, I came up with this convenient list of the best reef-safe sunscreens to try this summer. Each one uses mineral blockers to provide SPF 30 or more (the minimum amount recommended by dermatologists) and is water-resistant too.
1. BEST LIGHTWEIGHT REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN
Supergoop Play 100% Mineral Broad Spectrum Lotion SPF 50, Dhs133 at Sephora
Non-sticky, non-tacky, and non-whitening...this reef-safe sunscreen for face and body from Supergoop is as lightweight as mineral sunscreens come. Side note: If you haven't tried the brand's new Glowscreen (it's a hydrating SPF 40 combined with a highlighter that's perfect for every day), add that sh*t to your cart ASAP.
2. BEST REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
Goddess Garden Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, Dhs55 at Amazon
Okay, so all reef-safe sunscreens are generally great for sensitive skin because they don't contain any potentially irritating chemicals, but if you're looking for an option to calm down redness and irritation, this is the one for you. It uses 20 percent zinc oxide (which has anti-inflammatory properties) to prevent UV damage, plus soothing aloe vera extract. So go ahead, slather it all over your face and body—it won't burn or sting one bit.
3. BEST SMELLING REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN
Coola Mineral Body Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, Dhs118
This reef-safe sunscreen from Coola legit smells like a piña colada and I am so here for it. Even though I'll likely just be swimming in the chilly Atlantic at my local beach this summer (ILY, Jersey Shore), this mineral lotion's sweet tropical scent will be giving me dreamy Bahama vibes.
4. BEST REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN FOR FACE
Bare Republic Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, Dhs165 at Noon
This reef-safe face sunscreen is surprisingly...not sunscreen-y at all? The zinc and titanium dioxide cream protects with SPF 40 without leaving you feeling greasy, sticky, tacky, or like you're going to break out at any minute. It's also infused with antioxidant-rich raspberry, grape, and carrot seed oils help fight free radical damage that can lead to dark spots and wrinkles down the road.
5. BEST NATURAL REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN
Badger SPF 35 Zinc Oxide Sport Sunscreen Cream, Dhs50 at iHerb
Seriously, like, every pro surfer religiously uses this sunscreen...and for good reason: 1) It's protects skin with non-nano zinc oxide; 2) It's made with only five simple ingredients—all which happen to be organic, non-GMO, and biodegradable; and 3) It's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Boom.
6. BEST REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN STICK
Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+, Dhs71 at iHerb
I love this reef-safe stick sunscreen with SPF 50 from Aussie brand Blue Lizard. It makes it so easy to reapply without getting your hands messy and your face all sandy. Just rub it back and forth a few times in each area to make sure you're getting adequate UV protection.
7. BEST REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN MIST
Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30, Dhs132
Arguably the most convenient option on the list, this reef-safe, non-aerosol spray sunscreen from Beautycounter is a must for beach days. Hold it a few inches away from your skin and then liberally mist it from head to toe (literally) for water-resistant SPF 30 protection.