6 Best Eco-Friendly Sunscreens (Reef Safe & Kind to your Skin)

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Before moving to the U.S. from the UK, I didn’t really know what sun was!

Cold, grey, rainy days are my only real weather memories from my early years across the pond.

But now I’m a proud resident of Florida, get a chance to throw on my sustainable swimwear pretty much every week!

So now I need the best eco-friendly sunscreen to protect me from skin cancer…but without damaging our amazing oceans and lakes!

Six Reef-Safe Sunscreens To Protect Your Skin And The Ocean

We should all definitely trust Baz Luhrmann on this one…and wear sunscreen!

We’re taught from a young age that sunscreen is essential to protect our skin from damage.

What’s less well known is the damage being wreaked on marine life (and coral reefs in particular) by using chemical sunscreens.

I’ll go into that in more detail later.

But first, here’s a breakdown of the six best eco-friendly sunscreens to keep even the greenest of skin thoroughly protected.

Eco-credentials

Protect Land + Sea Certified
98% Organic Ingredients
Certified Non-GMO
B Corp
Cruelty-Free
Solar Power

Ingredients: Uncoated Mineral Zinc Oxide, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Beeswax, Sunflower Vitamin E.

They Say: This reef-friendly sunscreen formula is the first-ever to be Protect Land + Sea Certified by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, verifying that it does NOT contain any ingredients or contaminants considered harmful to coral reef environments, sea turtles, and other aquatic life. Packaged in a 50% PCR tube and made with clean solar power. This 100% mineral sunscreen uses zinc oxide, the safest active ingredient available for effective broad-spectrum protection.

We Say: This is the eco-friendly sunscreen we’ve used as a family for years and, after testing MANY sunscreens for this article, it’s STILL the sunscreen we use as a family.

The fact that this sunscreen offers protection in water for 80 minutes is a big selling point for me. Our girls LOVE the water!

It’s Protect Land + Sea Certified. Giving complete reassurance that there is nothing in the ingredient list that will cause harm to coral reefs and marine life.

The list of ingredients is reassuringly short. Just four, in fact.

Badger is a Certified B Corporation. All their products are made in the U.S. using 100% solar energy and certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny.

Organic beeswax is used in this sunscreen, making it a good option if you suffer from sensitive skin. But it also means if you’re looking for a fully vegan sunscreen, then this is not the one for you.

This is an effective mineral sunscreen containing natural ingredients…that simply works…for the whole family!

Eco-Friendly Sunscreens: 
The Best Of The Rest

Eco-credentials

EWG Verified
Vegan
Cruelty-Free

Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 14%, Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Squalane, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Sorbitan Olivate, Coco-Glucoside, Cetyl Palmitate, Polyglyceryl-3 Polyricinoleate, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Nymphaea Alba Flower Extract, Acacia Senegal Gum, Ethyl Ferulate, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Gluconate, Lecithin, Sodium Palmitoyl Proline, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Isostearic Acid.

They Say: A super sheer, super safe 100% non-nano, nontoxic SPF 30 zinc mineral sunscreen that provides invisible, broad-spectrum coverage. Zinc oxide protects the skin’s outer barrier to reflect damaging UVA/UVB rays. Derived from sugarcane, squalane provides deep and fast-absorbing moisture while water lily cools and calms skin. All Biossance products are vegan, cruelty-free, and made without paraben, synthetic fragrances, or PEG.

We Say: My mother-in-law swears by this stuff, so I thought I’d give it a test.

It turns out she has excellent taste in sunscreens…and sons-in-law! 😉

It’s a tad pricey, but it disappears into the skin instantly and provides excellent broad-spectrum protection.

It did appear to wash off pretty quickly when in the water. So if you’re looking for a sunscreen to protect you during time in the ocean or playing water sports, you should consider something else (Badger, for example).

However, if, like my mother-in-law, your idea of a beach day is sitting on a padded recliner reading a book and sipping something cold and bubbly, then this sunscreen might be perfect for you.

Especially if you’re looking for a vegan option.

This is the only eco-friendly sunscreen I tested that has been awarded EWG Verified status. Giving you extra peace of mind that there are no hidden nasties in the ingredients list.

Eco-credentials

EWG 1
Cruelty-Free
1% For The Planet
Plastic-Free
Non-GMO Project Certified

Ingredients:Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, Sunflower Oil, Cocoa Butter, Vitamin E, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (Organic Green Tea), Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (Organic Black Tea), Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil (Organic Hemp Seed Oil), Cera Flava (Organic Beeswax), Coffea Arabica Seed Extract (Organic Coffee Bean), Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil (Organic Sunflower Oil), Mangifera Indica Seed Butter (Natural Mango Butter), Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Oil (Natural Rosemary), Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter (Cocoa Butter), Tocopherol.

They Say: Enjoy serious full-body sunscreen without the plastic. Made from certified all-natural ingredients, it provides UVA-UVB true broad-spectrum protection. As a performance-driven sunscreen, it is very water-resistant beyond 80 minutes, yet so gentle and moisturizing it is perfect for kids. Packed with biologically active antioxidants, vitamins, minerals,  and extracts, it continues protecting your skin long after environmental exposure. The tin can be recycled along with other aluminum items.

We Say: This is another eco-friendly sunscreen that performs incredibly well in water.

It also performs admirably out of water. It doesn’t run with sweat, so it’s a perfect option for protecting your face when out hiking.

It feels light and moisturizing on the skin, despite being more of a solid than a lotion.

I liked the solid nature of this sunscreen. I found it made applying the correct amount easier. It also means you can take it onto a plane in your carry-on luggage.

I also liked the faint earthy smell of green tea.

EWG has awarded this sunscreen a level one accreditation. This is their second-highest level and gives extra assurances that no toxic ingredients have been used.

Raw Elements are a member of 1% For The Planet. Their sunscreen products are certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny and GMO-free by Non-GMO Project.

The aluminum tin is a nice touch too. It can be reused or recycled. Making this a fully zero-waste/plastic-free eco-friendly sunscreen.

Eco-credentials

Cruelty-Free
EWG 2

Ingredients: Avobenzone, 3%, Homosalate 8%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 4%, Isododecane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Dimethicone/Bis-Isobutyl PPG-20 Crosspolymer, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Isohexadecane, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Meadowfoam Estolide, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Polyester-7, Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate, Lithothamnion Calcareum Extract, Caprylyl Glycol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Jojoba Esters, Mannitol, Olibanum, Lecithin, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Diatomaceous Earth, Zinc Sulfate, Silica, Tocopherol.

They Say: Our most popular SPF, Unseen Sunscreen is a totally invisible, weightless, scentless formula that provides oil-free sunscreen protection for all skin types, tones, & lifestyles. This feel-good, antioxidant-rich facial sunscreen helps protect against blue light (skin-damaging light emitted from your phone, computer, & tablet), UVA, UVB & IRA rays. Oxybenzone-free & octinoxate-free. Soothing frankincense & hydrating meadowfoam seed to nourish & protect your skin.

We Say: This Supergoop! sunscreen has become a firm daily favorite for Mrs. M.

It’s become her daily moisturizer. She loves the light invisible texture and how it makes a perfect base layer for applying makeup.

I tested this eco-friendly sunscreen when I had a short beard (as I’d heard it was terrific when used on hairy skin) and was impressed with how it soaked into the skin without making the beard greasy.

I didn’t get to test this sunscreen in open water. However, during improvised tests in the shower, it didn’t perform well when wet.

This is another sunscreen that I would say is excellent for daily use, dry beach days, hikes, etc.

However, there are better options if you’re planning on spending any time in the water.

EWG has awarded this eco-friendly sunscreen a level two accreditation. This is their third-highest level and the lowest I would be happy to recommend. Level two is still excellent and tells you it’s a product you can trust.

Eco-credentials

EWG 2

Ingredients: Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Caprylyl Caprylate/Caprate(Coconut Oil Derived), Hawaiian Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Hawaiian Aleurites Moluccana (Kukui) Seed Oil, Polyglyceryl-2 Oleate(Olive Oil Derived), Polyhydroxystearic Acid(Vegetable Derived), Glycerin, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Cetyl Dimethicone, Magnesium Sulfate, Hydrogenated Methyl Abietate, Galactoarabinan, Propanediol, Polyglyceryl-2 Stearate, KonaRed® Hawaiian Coffee Fruit Extract, Hawaiian Noni Honey, Hawaiian Morinda Citrifolia (Noni) Fruit Juice, Arthrospira Platensis (Hawaiian Spirulina), Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Heliantus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Fruit Extract, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract, Cucumis Melo Cantalupensis (Cantaloupe) Fruit Extract, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Fruit Extract, Musa Sapientum (Banana) Fruit Extract, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Extract, Butter Extract, Coffea Arabica (Coffee) Leaf/Seed Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract, Heliantus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Tocopherol, Plumeria Alba Flower Extract, Kaolin, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, 1,2-Hexanediol Caprylhydroxamic Acid

They Say: A luxury high-performance sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection using Zinc Oxide to provide a natural physical barrier to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays while deeply nourishing the skin with nutrient-dense antioxidant Hawaii-grown botanicals. We proudly support the local Hawaii businesses who enrich our sunscreen with KonaRed® Coffee Cherry Extract, Noni, Hawaiian Spirulina, Plumeria Extract, Honey, Macadamia Nut Oil & Kukui Nut Oil.

We Say: This is another sunscreen that has been awarded a level two accreditation by EWG.

It’s FDA tested to be waterproof for 80 minutes and rubs in clear, with no sticky residue left on the skin.

The smell is also amazing. The coconut and vanilla notes are tropical and relaxing.

Eco-credentials

Organic
Plastic-Free

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (20%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Beeswax, Organic Cocoa Butter, Thanaka, Organic Cacao Powder, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Cinnamon Oil.

They Say: With an SPF 50, MANDA Organic Sun Paste is formulated for outdoor lovers by surfers, climbers, hikers, and athletes to stay on longer and protect against wind, water and sweat. Utilizing only the highest quality, food-grade, all-natural and organic ingredients, MANDA Organic Sun Paste contains no harmful chemicals or synthetics and is non-toxic, reef safe (oxybenzone and octinoxate free), and kid-safe.

We Say: Sun paste is a new one for me, and it’s a concept I like. My favorite sun paste is this offering from MANDA.

I have a container of this in my hiking backpack. It’s perfect for topping up your protection on the go. It’s sweat-resistant and offers excellent sun protection.

The container is made from bamboo and is beautiful.

The use of bamboo instead of plastic or metal makes this sunscreen the most sustainably packaged in the article.

It doesn’t rub into the skin as much as the other eco-friendly sunscreens in this article. You will see it after application. It sits on your skin to physically block UV rays.

I like that, though. There is something reassuring about visibly seeing your facial sun protection when out on a hot hike.

Chemical Sunscreens And Human Health

The harsh chemicals used in some sunscreen (more on this below) can find their way into our bloodstream.

The effect of this is currently unclear, and more research is needed, but I feel the risk (however small it might be) is not worth taking.

Especially when mineral sunscreens can be just as effective at protecting your skin from harmful UV rays and preventing skin cancer.

Coral Reef Damaging Ingredients To Avoid

If the effects on human health of some chemical sunscreens are not 100% clear yet, there is no doubt about the damaging effects they can have on coral reefs.

The damage currently being caused to coral reefs by sunscreen include:

  • Viruses: Sunscreen chemicals change the chemical composition of coral reefs. Making them more susceptible to picking up viruses.
  • Bleaching: Sunscreen chemicals bleach coral reefs. Reducing their overall health and eventually resulting in them dying.
  • Marine Life: The surrounding marine life that relies on coral reefs also suffers when the reef dies.
  • Local Economy: If a coral reef that is bringing in tourism money dies, then the local economy (and local people) will suffer.

The long list of chemical sunscreen ingredients can sometimes look like they’re straight off a chemistry test paper.

Some you should look out for and try to avoid are:

Oxybenzone

Also known as benzophenone-3 and BP-3, oxybenzone is found in most broad-spectrum sunscreens.

It helps filter both UVB and UVA rays.

Hawaii became the first state to ban sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate due to its harmful effect on coral reefs.

Octinoxate

Octinoxate is an effective ingredient that provides superior broad-spectrum protection against burns and aging.

It’s also banned in Hawaii for the same reasons as Oxybenzone.

Parabens

Parabens are a family of chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetic products.

They’ve been potentially linked with illnesses such as breast cancer, but the FDA currently considers them to be safe.

They can also irritate sensitive skin.

Common parabens used in sunscreen include:

  • Ethylparaben
  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Benzylparaben

Microplastics

83% of suncare products contain microplastics.

Microplastics washed into the sea can be bad for aquatic life.

Reef-Safe Sunscreens And Greenwashing

If you want to protect your skin and the oceans, you need to ensure that the sunscreen you choose does not contain any ingredients that could potentially upset the delicate marine ecosystem.

Simple. Just choose reef-safe sunscreen. Right?

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Greenwashing is rife in the sunscreen industry, so you need to be extra careful that you’re actually buying what you think you’re buying.

Fortunately, some states are starting to come down hard on companies who make unsubstantiated claims about their sunscreen.

Chemical Sunscreens v Mineral Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays before they get to penetrate your skin.

Mineral sunscreens work by deflecting UV rays away from the skin.

Nanoparticles In Mineral Sunscreen

Some natural mineral sunscreen contains nanoparticles (usually zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide).

Nanoparticles are less than 100 nanometers thick (1000 times smaller than the thickness of one strand of hair) and are included in sunscreen to help prevent a white film from forming on your skin during and after application.

Some people like to steer clear of nanoparticle sunscreen and prefer non-nanoparticle sunscreen instead.

Both will protect you from the sun's harmful rays without using multiple potentially harmful chemicals.

Sunscreen with nanoparticles will be easier to rub in and will be invisible.

Sunscreen with non-nanoparticles will require more effort to run in and will leave a visible white film on the skin.

Eco-Friendly Sunscreen Certifications

Buying an eco-friendly sunscreen that carries genuine, well-respected certifications is a quick way to ensure that you’re getting a product that matches your eco-credentials.

Some to look out for include:

Sunscreen Top Tips

  • Choose a good quality eco-friendly sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection to offer the best coverage of both UVA and UVB rays.
  • An SPF of 30 or more offers the best protection.
  • Once the SPF gets over 50, it offers little extra protection. In 2007 the FDA said that SPF over 50 is “inherently misleading” as it gives a false sense of security and could lead to people staying out in the sun longer than they should.
  • Seek shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Cover up the body and face with SPF protective clothing.
  • If you have sensitive skin go for an eco-friendly sunscreen containing as few ingredients as possible. Alcohol-based sunscreens, for example, can irritate sensitive skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Eco-Friendly Sunscreens Also Vegan-Friendly?

Some eco-friendly sunscreens contain non-vegan ingredients, such as beeswax. To ensure that your sunscreen is vegan, look out for labels carrying well-known vegan accreditations, such as Certified Vegan.

Is Reef-Friendly The Same As Eco-Friendly?

Reef-friendly refers to sunscreens that do not contain ingredients known to cause harm to coral reefs. Eco-friendly is a catch-all term for products that are better for the environment than standard, non-eco-friendly products.

Is Zinc Sunscreen Bad For The Environment?

According to Sierra, “products containing non-nano zinc oxide are generally considered safe for the environment”.

Is Beach Hut Sunblock Reef-Safe?

Beach Hut is not a brand I tested, and its website is pretty vague about its reef-safe credentials. I’ve contacted them and will update this article when they get back to me.

Is Shiseido Sunscreen Reef-Safe?

Shiseido is a chemical sunscreen, and so not one I tested. However, according to Harper's Bazaar, it “applies clear and gets stronger when exposed to the elements, but is still reef-safe”.

Is Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen Reef-Safe?

Alba Botanica is free from oxybenzone and octinoxate. It is considered to be reef-safe.

The Final Word

It’s certainly a hot topic when it comes to chemical sunscreen v mineral sunscreen.

I’ve used mineral eco-friendly sunscreen for many years, so that’s the type I would recommend. All the sunscreens mentioned in this article are mineral-based and reef-safe.

I prefer the thought of deflecting UV rays away from my skin to using a bunch of chemicals to absorb them.

This said, most research points to the fact that chemical sunscreens don’t pose a significant threat to human health. I’d just rather not take the chance.

The best sunscreen is the one you’re going to use. If you only have chemical sunscreen in your cabinet, you might as well use it. Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all!

Remember if you're heading to the beach or pool this summer, check out this sustainable swimwear for men and women that is ethically made but looks amazing!

Get In Touch

Where do you buy your eco-friendly sunscreen? Have I missed your favorite brands or biodegradable sunscreens? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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