To dutifully protect our skin during peak UV indexes of summer, dive into the consumer world of all-natural, non-toxic sunscreen formulas. However, before you start shopping, it's important to read up on what sunscreens really contain, because not all are created equal—some sunscreens can actually do more damage than good to us, especially the reefs below. Keep on scrolling for an all-encompassing guide on reef-safe sunscreen (and which ingredients to watch out for—and why).
Best reef-safe sunscreens at a glance
- Best roll-on: EiR Surf Mud Pro Balm, $32
- Best for sensitive skin: Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen, $42
- Best multi-use: Manda Organic Sun Paste, $28
- Best tinted: Salt & Stone Natural Mineral Sunscreen, $24
- Best for sweat: Kinfield Dew + Glow SPF Bundle, $48
- Most makeup-friendly: Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick, $29
- Best mattifying: REN Clean Screen Mineral Mattifying Face Sunscreen, $40
- Best unscented: All Good Mineral Ultimate Sun Care Set, $65
- Best budget-friendly: Clearscreen® BARE Republic Sunscreen Body Lotion, $13
- Best scented: Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen, $24
- Best everyday: Supergoop! Play SPF 50 Sunscreen, $10-58
What makes sunscreen harmful to the ocean?
For those longer days of rays, sunscreens shield us from the damaging impacts of sun exposure by blocking both UVB and UVA rays from breaching our bodies' barriers. But where they may do us dirty is on the back label. Most of the main active (and harmful) ingredients in our essential tubes of SPF include a combination of the worrisome “Os” (oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and octocrylene), as well as homosalate and avobenzone.
These red flag UV filters penetrate and absorb into the skin—raising concerns with the FDA in the safe and effective category. Equally unfortunate is the sunscreen not absorbed into the skin transfers into the ocean water. These lotions or sprays rub right off into the marine environment, becoming bioavailable to coral reef ecosystems, fish and many other seafaring creatures.
Which sunscreens are ocean-safe?
Alas, we recognize that finding the ultimate SPF safeguard solution for the mindful consumer can become daunting— overwhelming even. But it all really boils down to two thumbs-up ingredients that make a sunscreen mineral instead of chemical: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The FDA proposed that both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide be classified as safe and effective—showing few, if any, particles penetrating the skin to reach living tissues. Better yet, they do not readily break down in the sun, nor do they cause harm to our reef systems—providing protection for both our beach bodies and ocean bodies.
We culled together the best of the best picks that check off all the boxes: water-safe while water-resistant, vegan yet effective, and greaseless without the notorious thick white-gray cast. Read on below for a list of our favorite ocean-friendly sunscreens this summer.
The best reef-safe sunscreens to use this summer—and beyond
Best roll-on stick sunscreen
This chic and trendy skin-care line does its due diligence with all the essentials: protection and after-sun care, non-nano zinc and reef-safe. Made for the sun lovers who crave to be drenched in vitamin D, or just those who’d rather preserve their epidermis for years to come, EiR’s Surf Mud Pro is the way to go. The high-performance sun protection balm comes in plastic-free, 100 percent compostable packaging in the form a cute and portable stick. In it, its reef-safe, all-natural SPF 50 sunscreen serves up extra UV protection—best as a prep for days of high-sunshine intake.
It slides on with a chocolate-scented finish for hydrated skin deliciously sweet enough to taste. Meanwhile, EiR’s Body Butter is the newest addition to the Surf Mud family—based on the original formula, but whipped into a silky smooth and scoopable butter inspired by a Mayan chocolate mask.
Best sensitive skin sunscreen
Developed in a My Green Lab Platinum Certified facility, Biossance’s EWG-approved formulations reduce their environmental impact with every paraben- and synthetic fragrance-free product. Powerfully invisible broad-spectrum SPF 30 zinc sheer mineral sunscreen protects even the most sensitive skin, while the deeply hydrating, clean lotion blends in and absorbs fast for all skin tones without leaving a trace. Better yet, the water lily within calms and cools sun-stressed skin, leaving absolutely everyone with a soft, dewy finish.
Best multi-use sunscreen
This beachy-boho brand calls on outdoor renegades and salt-haired beach bums for its long-lasting formula that protects against wind, water and sweat. Utilizing food grade, all-natural and organic ingredients, Manda’s sun care products are the first of their kind to introduce the use of Thanaka, a sustainable and regenerative ingredient from the wood of a tree native to Myanmar.
Thanaka has been used for over 2,000 years as a natural sun protectant that preserves and beautifies the skin and even boasts anti-inflammatory, healthy aging and moisturizing properties. Undoubtedly one of the coolest, and most utilitarian features of the Sun Paste is its packaging, which includes a mirror inside the cap for easy application.
Best tinted sunscreen
Salt & Stone’s sleek and pro surfer-approved line of lotions include SPF 50 and SPF 30 sunscreens, lip balms, as well as a collaboration with California sportswear brand, Stussy, to create a Tinted Sunscreen Stick. Perfect protection for a morning swim in the Pacific, this formula is broad spectrum, water resistant for two hours, reef-safe face and super convenient (the stick goes on smoothly without any white residue). With key ingredients of shea butter, cocoa butter, sunflower seed butter and vitamin E, the Tinted Stick is formulated with a natural tint to blend into all skin tones.
Best sport-ready sunscreen
Because you can never have too much SPF for those sweaty, sporty days. Kinfield’s reef-safe bundle contains two full-size products for extra hydration and conservation: Daily Dew SPF 35, an untinted mineral face sunscreen with water-resistant, sport-ready protection and a dewy finish that makes you look like you just ran out of the surf like CJ Parker in Baywatch, and Sunglow SPF 30, a lightly tinted mineral face sunscreen that layers on a luminous, sun-kissed glow to flatter every skin tone.
Best makeup-friendly sunscreen
This Japanese cosmetic company has perhaps made the perfect sunscreen—equipped with its proprietary SynchroShield™ that combines WetForce x HeatForce technology which ultimately creates an invisible, lightweight protective veil that becomes stronger and more effective when introduced to water, sweat and heat. On-the-go-ready for active outdoor days, Shiseido’s Clear Sunscreen Stick glides on SPF 50+ of 80 water resistant minutes. An added benefit being its invisible residue and that it works over and under makeup seamlessly.
Best mattifying face sunscreen
Already we like this one for its bright yellow tube being made of recycled plastics. REN offers a silicone-free, SPF 30 mineral solution made with 22 percent zinc oxide for protection again UVA/UVB and blue light (those laptops can cause skin damage just like the sun can!). The yellow passion fruit seed extract in it provides an antioxidant that can boost the skin’s internal defense system, and help protect from pollution/free radical damage. Meanwhile, its mattifying effect from oil-absorbant rice starch gives that pore-minimizing, filter-like softness for your face, without the filter, of course.
Best unscented sunscreen
An active member of the Safe Sunscreen Council and 1% For The Planet, All Good remains a California-based, woman-founded and run company. Its widely-used roll-on sticks include non-nano zinc oxide, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial calendula (grown on the company farm), buriti oil (an antioxidant), shea butter and the good ol’ coconut oil. Opt for the Ultimate Sun Care Set—great to grab before a wet and wild vacation—bundling together three SPF lip balms, two SPF 30 sunscreen lotions, two SPF 50 Zinc Sun Butters and two Sun Sticks to lather up that money maker.
Most affordable sunscreen
With a hashtag slogan calling customers to #GOBAREOUTSIDE, Bare Republic’s line of sunscreens allow you to do just that. Its SPF 30 and SPF 50 clean broad spectrum body lotions blend in invisibly to provide high-performance protection. Enhanced with antioxidant-rich grape, raspberry and carrot seed oils, the naturally-fragrant and non-greasy formula is always free of parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances for worry-free fun in the sun.
Best scented sunscreen
After losing her mom to skin cancer, the founder of Suntegrity channeled her grief into creating various SPF mineral powders and foundations from her Southern California apartment. All Suntegrity sunscreens start with broad spectrum-busting, non-nano zinc oxide, and then receive infusions of youth-preserving antioxidants. One of the brand’s hero products—”Made in honor of my mom and all those who lost their lives to skin cancer”—the greaseless, sweet orange-scented SPF 30 body sunscreen applies like lotion and is even a tad cooling from the added jojoba, aloe, cucumber extract and hyaluronic acid.
Best daily sunscreen
The broad spectrum SPF 50 lotion covers the bases for not just your face, but your whole body, too. Available in a hefty 18 fl. oz. bottle, Supergoop!’s fast-absorbing formula provides daily high-performance protection from UVA, UVB and IRA rays, while also helping prevent photo-aging and dehydration. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a subtropical climate where it’s eternally summer, or the sun at least shines the majority of the year, rest assured this generous lotion will stand the test of time by becoming your everyday hydrator and protector.
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