Best Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen for Snorkeling & Swimming

Have you unknowingly been damaging marine life and killing coral? It is likely that your typically bought sunscreen contains toxic substances that are extremely harmful to coral reefs. So many are unaware that this problem even exists. It is time to increase awareness and discover the best coral reef safe sunscreens available.

Many normal sunscreens are not eco-compatible and contain harmful ingredients such as oxybenzone (the most harmful), octinoxate, butylparaben and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor.

Even if a sunscreen is described/advertised as ‘coral reef safe’, it is wise to check the ingredient list to ensure it does not include these reef-damaging substances.

Even at low levels, these have been shown to cause coral bleaching.

How Does Sunscreen Damage Corals?

The algae that live in coral tissue provide nutrients that are essential for the coral’s survival. The harmful substances in normal sunscreen cause the algae to explode, or be released by the tissue. This leaves the coral unprotected, causes it to become white (bleached), and disallows it to feed and thrive.

Researchers estimate that between 4,000 and 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen is washed off swimmers each year and enter oceans worldwide. They also estimate that up to 10% of coral reefs are threatened by bleaching caused by sunscreens.

On May 1st, 2018 Hawaii became the first to pass a bill banning sunscreens that are damaging to coral reefs. This legislation will go into effect on January 1st, 2021. Read more on this bill.

Best Coral Reef Friendly Sunscreens

1. Badger

  • SPF 35
  • Biodegradable
  • Water resistant for a minimum of 40 minutes

Badger provides protection from UVA and UVB rays using Zinc Oxide, which is a safe mineral. It is free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, making it safe for coral reeds and other marine ecosystems.

This product contains organic sunflower base oil, vitamin E, and beeswax, which are all extremely moisturising and soothing for the skin. Additionally, this sunscreen is hypoallergenic and suitable for sensitive skin. It is pediatrician tested and certified as safe for babies and children.

2. ThinkSport

  • SPF 50+
  • Zinc oxide 20%
  • Water resistant for up to 80 minutes

ThinkSport is high in UVA and UVB protection and is free from harmful chemicals oxybenzone, avobenzone, and UV chemical absorbers.

It is easy to apply, non-greasy and absorbs well into the skin.

3. Stream2Sea

  • SPF 30
  • Biodegradable and paraben free
  • Water resistant for up to 80 minutes

Stream2Sea contains an antioxidant blend of organic green tea, olive leaf, tulsi, and wakame.

It is easily absorbed and non-greasy. In addition, it has been tested and proven reef friendly.

4. TotLogic

  • SPF 30
  • Non-nano Zinc oxide 20%
  • Water and sweat resistant for up to 80 minutes
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Vegan

TotLogic is rated number 1 by EWG. It is infused with white tea, jojoba, lavender, and chamomile.

It does not contain any harsh ingredients, parabens or artificial fragrances, making it safe for babies over 6 months.

5. Coral Safe

  • SPF 30
  • Titanium dioxide 6% Zinc oxide 6%
  • Water resistant for up to 80 minutes
  • Non-allergenic

Corl Safe has a 100% natural formula and is biodegradable and eco-friendly. It is infused with green tea (a natural antioxidant) and does not contain chemical fragrances, parabens or preservatives.

It contains aloe vera gel, coconut oil, and shea butter, which are known for their moisturising and soothing abilities.

6. Raw Elements

  • SPF 30
  • Zinc oxide 23%
  • Water resistant for over 80 minutes
  • Biodegradable and coral reef safe

Raw Elements is one of EWG’s highest-rated sunscreens.

It contains 97% certified organic ingredients and is infused with antioxidants and vitamins. Moreover, it is gentle enough for children and provides extra protection against wind and salt.


Best Reef Friendly Sunscreens for Kids

1. All Good

  • SPF 30
  • Zinc oxide 12%
  • Kids sunscreen
  • 80-minute water resistant
  • Gluten-free and vegan

All Good contains rose hips, organic green tea, and buriti oil, which help to repair damaged skin.

It is a non-greasy lightweight formula and contains organic chamomile, which soothes the skin. It is also oxybenzone free, biodegradable and coral reef friendly.

2. ThinkBaby

  • SPF 50+
  • Zinc oxide 20%
  • Water resistant for up to 80 minutes

ThinkBaby has achieved more awards than any other sun care line.

It is suitable for sensitive skin and babies of 6 months or above. It contains no oxybenzone, avobenzone, or UV chemical absorbers.

Why is it Important to Protect Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are important for many reasons and need to be protected. Not only do they contribute to marine life balance, but they are also of value to mankind. They:

  • break the force of waves during storms and hurricanes
  • prevent coastal erosion and flooding
  • provide shelter and habitats for a multitude of marine organisms
  • are the source of essential nutrients for marine food chains (such as nitrogen)
  • aid in nutrient recycling
  • save a great deal of money by preventing the need for reconstruction and costly coastal defenses being built
  • contribute to the fishing industry’s income
  • are expected to contribute to future medical advances (and are already being used in treatments for cancer and HIV)

Can You Protect your Skin and the Sea at the Same Time?

We usually apply sunscreen with only the best intentions: to protect our skin from damage such as sunburn, aging, melanoma, etc. However, you may not be aware that your typically-bought sunscreen can do a lot of damage: maybe not to you, but to the marine environment.

Now, can we protect our skin and the sea at the same time? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, no sunscreen is 100% safe for corals. However, those with harsh and damaging chemicals can and should be avoided.

What Exactly is Coral Reef Friendly Sunscreen?

Although natural and coral friendly sunscreens are still not 100% safe for corals, they are much less harmful than the average sunscreen full of toxic chemicals. It is best to educate yourself on these harmful chemicals so you can read and understand the ingredients list before purchasing a sunscreen.

The main ingredient to avoid is oxybenzone, and the top ingredient to look for in a reef friendly sunscreen is non-nano zinc oxide.

It should also be noted that biodegradable sunscreens do not always mean reef friendly, and the ingredients should still be checked.

Water-Resistance of Sunscreens

Additionally, the FDA prohibits companies from branding their product as waterproof, as there are no waterproof sunscreens. However, there are water-resistant sunscreens. These are less harmful than standard sunscreens as fewer ingredients wash off bodies and into the ocean.

If you plan to go swimming or snorkeling, check the water-resistant duration on your sunscreen. Furthermore, sunscreen should be applied 15-20 minutes before going into the water. This allows efficient time for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin and become effective.

Do You Matter? What You Can Do for Our Reefs…

There are a number of factors that are responsible for the deterioration of the health of your oceans, such as climate change (water warming) and rubbish pollution (e.g. the increasing amount of plastic disrupting marine life). Our oceans desperately need our help to restore balance.

Therefore, when it comes to something that we can easily control, like simply opting for a reef friendly sunscreen, it is essential that we do so.

Be cautious of what you bring into the sea with you, and pick up a reef friendly sunscreen for you and the family. They do not lack protection, as they can have the same SPF level as the typical (reef-damaging) sunscreen. There is no downside.

When it comes to a lot of things in life that are potentially damaging to the planet, such as recycling, many believe that one person cannot make a difference. For this topic, that is certainly not the case. Every drop counts. One drop of sunscreen in 15 million litres of water is all that is needed to damage a reef. So yes, you do matter.

Sun Protective Clothing as an Alternative

Sun protective clothing is clothing specifically designed to protect the skin from UV damage. The clothing is produced from a fabric that has UV-blocking abilities. Standard summer fabrics have UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) 6, whereas sun protective fabrics have UPF 30.

This means that if 30 units of UV fall onto the fabric, only 1 is able to pass through to the skin underneath. This is equal to a sunscreen with SPF 30. Wearing UPF swimming clothing can be a great alternative to solely wearing sunscreen, entering the ocean with bare skin, and allowing it to wash off and into the ocean to cause damage. Learn how to choose the UPF clothing that suits you best.

Is Seaweed the Future of Sunscreen?

Even though there is no eco-friendly sunscreen that is 100% safe for corals, recent research has shown that seaweed may be the solution for completely ocean-friendly sunscreens. Researchers at King’s College, London extracted the mycosporine-like amino acid (MAA) known as palythine from seaweed, in order to test its ability to protect human skin cells against UV rays.

MMAs are natural compounds produced in organisms that live in shallow-water, sunlight-rich environments. Using human skin cells in a lab, researchers showed that MMA could effectively absorb harmful rays from the sun, even at very low concentrations, and protect the cells against UVR damage.

Furthermore, they also discovered that palythine is a powerful antioxidant. If this proves to be successful, seaweed could be the key to the development of a sunscreen that not only protects the skin against sun damage but does so without causing harm to marine ecosystems.

Reef Safe Sunscreen FAQ

Is zinc oxide safe for the skin?

Yes. It is very safe and many EWG top rated products include non-nano zinc oxide.

Will sunscreens containing zinc oxide leave white residue on the skin?

The higher the percentage of zinc oxide, the more likely your skin may be left looking a little white. However, the sunscreen you choose does not need to have an extremely high level of zinc oxide, a small percentage is sufficient.

Furthermore, it is less likely to leave white residue film on the skin if it is applied/rubbed in well and allowed to absorb.

Is sunscreen without coral-damaging substances still effective in protecting the skin against UV damage?

Yes. Coral reef friendly sunscreens are just as safe as normal sunscreens and have the same SPF levels.

Are biodegradable sunscreens coral reef friendly?

This is often the case, but not always. Even if sunscreen is labeled as biodegradable and eco-friendly, it is always best to check the ingredients list to find out exactly what is in the product.


Marine life desperately needs your help, as the health of our oceans is under threat. As discussed in this article, there are other options to choose from that are high in UV protection, and do not contain harsh chemicals.

There needs to be increased awareness on the damage normal sunscreens are causing. Take your pick of the best coral reef safe sunscreens available! Please spread the word and share this article with your friends.

Best Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen for Snorkeling & Swimming

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