The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens:
Protect Your Skin & the Planet (2020)
Summer means time spent soaking in the sun and cooling off in the water. As fun as it is, all of us, at one time or another, have suffered the ill-effects of a little too much fun in the sun. From lava skin to weeks of peeling, sunburn is apt to be avoided—and the best way to do that is by applying the dermatologist’s prevent-all: sunscreen.
But what’s the effect of all that sunscreen flowing into our oceans? Well, as Dr. Craig A. Downs, Ph.D., executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory explained, “Eighty-five percent of the Caribbean coral reefs died before 1999 or 2000. That wasn’t global warming. It’s pollution.”
The Grow Ensemble team is all about the simple actions that create powerful change, and opting for reef-safe sunscreen fits that mold. Wade a bit, and we’ll share some of our favorite reef-safe sunscreens coming from companies leading the charge towards natural and eco-friendly skin and planet protection!
What is Reef-Safe Sunscreen and Why is it “Reef-Safe”?
The coral reefs are a remarkable animal that host around 25% of all marine life, contribute more than $3.4 billion annually to the U.S. economy alone, and protect coastal communities around the globe from devastation threatened by natural disasters. No big deal.
Unfortunately, chemical sunscreens are extremely common, and they (along with climate change) cause coral bleaching, killing the coral reefs we all know, love, and rely on. Reef-safe sunscreens, on the other hand, allow us to protect our skin from harmful UV rays just the same without needlessly inflicting harm on the coral reef or the planet.
As a staple for a day outside, it is estimated that 6,000 tons of sunscreen are washed into the ocean every year. Whether you’re riding the waves at the beach or showering off after a day at the pool, all that sunscreen eventually makes its way from our skin into the planet’s waters.
What’s the difference between reef-safe or reef-dangerous? Sunscreen ingredients. Reef-safe sunscreen utilizes mineral compounds instead of harmful chemicals to provide protection from UVA/UVB rays. Their nontoxic ingredients mean sun protection for us without the bleaching of coral reefs. In short, sunscreen decisions are an important step toward keeping our oceans healthy and the life beneath thriving.
Our favorite sunscreens below will give you the protection you need, while keeping the coral reefs safe too!
The Best #BuyEnsemble Coral Reef-Safe Sunscreens
Here’s our list of some of our favorite reef-friendly sunscreens from companies promising to deliver body- and earth-safe products.
1. All Good
All of the All Good sun products use non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Some of their mineral-based products also have essential oils and lotion packed in to repair and soothe your skin as it protects. A little bonus: All Good is also a certified B-Corporation and 1% for the Planet partner, so you can feel good about buying from this better-for-the-world brand.
All Good’s SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Spray is great for people on the go and for parents who find the drive-through application method most successful with their kids. Unlike a lot of spray sunscreen options, All Good’s is non-sticky and non-greasy. It goes on a lot like sunscreen lotion actually.
It’s marked as water-resistant for 80 minutes, although, we noticed that even after a long day outside and some serious water time, it still took some good post-sun scrubbing to get all of the white-staining sunscreen off. Since it’s packed with soothing ingredients like aloe, green tea, and calendula, we weren’t too upset with some remnants hanging around the next day.
When protecting the money maker, sometimes it’s best to go for a stick. All Good offers a Butter Stick which is great for more precise application. Plus, unlike the spray, the stick goes on clear. The beeswax and coconut oil ingredients are a welcomed touch for a sun-kissed face protected by the SPF 50 the stick provides.
The people at Badger make almost anything and everything skin related, and they were one of the first companies on the scene offering natural beauty and body products. Badger is known for their biodegradable, natural mineral sunscreen and their awesome workplace conditions. They are also a certified B-Corp, so you know they’ll deliver.
Badger’s SPF 40 Clear Sport Sunscreen in a Tin is a zinc sunscreen that is great for the beach bag. This unscented cream is certified to not contain any ingredients that are harmful to coral. The tin it comes in is reusable and the sunscreen it contains is potent—so a little goes a long way. It rubs in clear and contains only 4 ingredients: zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax, and Vitamin E. The container is small, so it is great for on-the-go application or traveling!
Badger also offers a fantastic Lip Balm that is great for people with sensitive skin, however some users note that it smells a little like tea tree oil (which it contains), so it is not completely fragrance-free.
Stream2Sea is incredibly transparent, conscientious, and also happens to make some of the best sunscreen out there. While Stream2Sea may be a little bit pricier than others on this list, they make sure that the entire life cycle of their products, from raw materials to packaging, is sustainable. They also partner with a number of nonprofits where they donate a percentage of your purchase to a nonprofit of your choosing!
The Tinted Sunscreen- SPF 30 from Stream2Sea has a natural tint made from titanium dioxide and is great for those who do not like the aesthetic of chalky white or the oily glow that sunscreen sometimes leaves behind.
While we think that nothing looks better than living sustainably, we also understand if somebody wanted a less pale look while enjoying the beach.
4. Babo Botanicals
Babo Botanicals is a non-nano certified B-Corp that specializes in products for the family. Among their many products for new parents, babies, and a plethora of other self-care goodies are some great reef-safe, cruelty-free sunscreen options.
This Baby Face Mineral Sunscreen was made with the littlest among us in mind! The formula was designed by a mom of 3 and was created for babies with sensitive skin. This sunscreen is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, with the water resistance needed to keep any infant, toddler, or young child safe and sun protected.
Applying sunscreen to the face and out of the eyes of a squirming child can be a real challenge. That’s why we also really recommend Babo Botanicals’ stick! This face stick has the all-natural promise that Babo Botanicals delivers, with a little more ease of use and precision!
5. California Pure Naturals
California Pure Naturals specializes in vegan, cruelty-free skin care products. While they may not be as eco-focused as some of the others on this list, the quality of their sunscreen and their excellent customer service make them a stand out!
This Radiance Cream is best used as a light foundation—while it is a broad spectrum protective, it also has soothing qualities, making your skin feel and look fresh.
While you will definitely radiate using this cream, you might want to get something more heavy duty to go along with it if you are expecting sustained exposure. The good news is if you don’t think it’s quite a fit for you, you can return it in 30 days and get your money back!
What started as a mission to get children using SPF protectants at an earlier age became an awesome company dedicated to shielding the world’s skin in a natural way! And Supergoop has maintained their original mission and have launched an initiative to get SPF into schools. Supergoop lists their products so you can narrow in on sunscreen for the skin you want to protect: babies, toddlers, women, makeup-wearers, men…they got it all!
While Supergoop’s Matte Screen is on the more expensive end, this sunscreen is also one of the more dynamic on this list. The matte finish allows for it to be worn daily, underneath makeup or on its own—covering pores and blemishes, while still being a broad spectrum SPF 40 sunscreen. We think it’s definitely worth the price because its non-oily feel and the tint of color will certainly make you glow!
For a smooth finish and great protection, you can also check out Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen. It’s great for moisturizing your face for day-to-day wear. Invisible, weightless, and scentless this is a good option for a fresh out of the shower feel before you greet the sun.
7. Thinksport by Think
Thinksport has been rated as a 1 (that’s a great score!) by the EWG since 2010. Their products are a great introduction to eco-friendly sunscreens for those who hesitate due to their ultra-sensitive skin. You can consider this brand as the gateway-brand into the world of reef-safe sunscreens. We love Thinksport because they launched the Thinksocial Initiative that has, in the last 10 years, donated over half a million dollars back to organizations benefiting society in a wide range of ways. With each purchase, you can choose a worthy cause for Thinksport to donate to.
Thinksport Everyday Face Sunscreen is chock full of vitamin C and E. This everyday face lotion pairs great with their full body SPF 50+. The small amount of tint in the sunscreen allows for your face to stay free of that chalky white look as well.
It also moisturizes and replenishes skin without giving that greasy feeling that all too many sunscreens leave. People of all pigmentations and melanin levels have noted that it compliments their complexion. However, we wished it came in bigger sizes than just the 2 oz travel size!
8. Raw Elements
Raw Elements was started by an avid ocean-lover and lifeguard, and their products get lifeguard approval. Holding themselves to the tip top standards, Raw Elements has a long list of certifications that demonstrate their commitment to leading the charge for a safe planet. Along with their high-quality products, Raw Elements makes sure to spread awareness around the environmental solutions they fight for.
They even founded World Reef Day in 2019. Tune in next year to catch their amazing lineup of speakers. Last year they had Senator Gabbard of Hawaii, Dr. Craig Downs, big wave surfer Garrett McNamara, and our friend Kate Williams from 1% for the planet to name a few!
One of the Raw Elements crowd pleasers is the Face + Body Tube. This sunscreen is super waterproof. Durable for the surfer and swimmer: post-swim eye rubs are no problem here. It doesn’t sting if it does get in your eyes (although we didn’t do a Loreal Kids Shampoo test or anything). They boast their sunscreen is so water & sweat resistant, it can be applied underwater—we haven’t tried it, so let us know if you do.
Raw Elements also has a great Zero Waste Baby +Kids Stick for the most delicate skin. The stick goes on as a creamy smooth layer, and it’s hypoallergenic. While it’s meant specifically for the kiddos, moms and dads can sneak a use for their own protection as well.
On top of including their biodegradable formula, the stick is also zero waste with fully compostable packaging. This means you’re keeping toxic chemicals and plastic out of the ocean all in one purchase! Since it’s compostable, this isn’t a stick to be thrown to the bottom of the surf bag. You’ll want to keep it relatively dry to keep the packaging from breaking down.
9. Bare Republic
If you grew up frequenting the beach, colorful nose protection was a rite of passage. Bare Republic is keeping the old school zinc screen going, and we love it. You can pick from any of their 6 colorful zinc sticks and get to face painting/protecting. While they didn’t make our main list because we didn’t find anything matching the advocacy and efforts of our other favorites, they are reef-safe and the color choices gave us nostalgia big time, so we had to tack them on for honorable mention!
We found Bare Republic’s Neon Sunscreen Stick after scouring for a colorful option. It was important to find because zinc oxide is basically skin-responsible face paint. What more do you want? A couple more specific pros to having a colorful zinc face: 1) great protection from the sun, 2) you know when it’s time to reapply, 3) for once, kids will reliably report back for sunscreen check ins, 4) you look really cool.
Welcome to Reef-Safe Skin + Planet Protection!
Whether snorkeling or just going on a walk, we use sunscreen for protection, and we don’t want to make compromises in doing that. When we can choose sunscreen that is safe for the coral reefs or our bodies, why not!? And with our list, you should be able to find something for everyone from the surfer to the gardener.
Once you jump on the reef-safe bandwagon, we are sure you’ll become an advocate for the movement. We love our beaches, and we appreciate all the amazingness that are the coral reefs. Choosing the safe sunscreen option ensures we can enjoy the oceans today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day…
Henry is an entrepreneur based out of Seattle, Wa. He is an avid reader, writer, and lover of nature. His passion for people and connection with others has led him to work with some incredible individuals and companies. He is always looking for the next exciting adventure, whether it be in his personal life or business pursuit.
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