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The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens To Keep You and the Planet Protected

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Verona_studio/Adobe Stock Images

As organic and vegan beauty products continue to gain popularity, one thing has become crystal clear: Skincare buffs are passionate about using products that are good for both their complexion and the planet. If one of your 2021 goals is to cleanse your skincare routine of products that contain toxic ingredients, you may want to start by first assessing your go-to sunscreen. While this skincare essential is key to keeping your skin healthy and protected, it often contains ingredients that can harm the ocean's ecosystems.

When determining whether a sunscreen formula may negatively impact the planet, the first thing you'll want to look at is whether it's a physical sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen. "Physical sunscreens (AKA mineral sunscreens) contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that physically block out UV radiation," says dermatologist Julia Tzu. "Chemical sunscreens contain non-mineral based chemical ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, etc. These chemicals absorb the incoming UV radiation, thereby preventing the absorption of the UV into the skin." Both sunscreen types can be reef-safe, but each has different environmental risks you'll want to pay attention to.

In chemical sunscreens, the main concern is formulas that include the active ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. These UV blockers can harm oceans by bleaching coral reefs, damaging their development and misplacing the ocean life that lives there. The primary ingredients in physical sunscreen (zinc and titanium dioxide) are typically better for the planet, however, the formula's particle size is what you'll want to pay attention to here. Look for formulas that feature non-nanotized-sized particles. These particles are large enough that they'll sink to the ocean floor rather than dissolve in the water, which could harm marine life.

We know this is all a lot to look for on one tiny bottle, so here's a helpful shortcut: Most ocean-friendly sunscreens will advertise their formulas as being "ocean-friendly" or "reef safe." While there is still a lot of ambiguity around these terms, they're a good indication that the product was made with the planet in mind.

Continue reading below to discover 12 of the best reef-safe sunscreens for all different situations and skin types.


About the Expert:

Julia Tzu, MD, FAAD, is a double board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Wall Street Dermatology. Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and director of The Dermatology & Laser Group.

1. Best Invisible Sunscreen:

SUPERGOOP! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

SUPERGOOP! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Courtesy of SUPERGOOP!

This totally transparent face sunscreen is a perfect example of chemical sunscreen done right. The innovative, oxybenzone-free formula provides broad-spectrum protection while still being reef-friendly. The clear, gel-like texture mattifies the complexion and feels like velvet on the skin. It's the perfect last step in your skincare routine to make a natural face look primed, polished, and protected.

2. Best Sheer Mineral Sunscreen:

BIOSSANCE Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen

BIOSSANCE Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen
Courtesy of BIOSSANCE

If you have any skin sensitivities, mineral sunscreen should be your go-to. "In general, I recommend patients choose mineral sunscreens whenever possible due to their superior broad-spectrum coverage as well as the less potential for harmful health impact," says dermatologist Arash Akhavan. This mineral formula pairs non-nano, non-toxic zinc with plant-derived squalane for clean protection that also hydrates the skin. While some mineral sunscreens can leave a white cast, this formula is fully invisible once rubbed in, making it a great go-to for all skin types and skin tones.

3. Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin:

COOLA SUNCARE Mineral SPF30 Sun Silk Crème

COOLA Mineral SPF30 Sun Silk Crème

This lightweight SPF-packed cream feels like silk when you massage it into the skin. The oil-free and fragrance-free formula features redness-reducing niacinamide, making it an ideal pick for acne-prone and sensitive skin types. We also can’t get enough of the fact that the Sun Silk Crème is made from 70 percent certified organic ingredients—many of which battle the aging effects of blue light, HEV light, infrared rays, and pollution. It's sun protection and skincare all in one.

4. Best Sunscreen for Oily Skin:

JUICE BEAUTY SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer

JUICE BEAUTY SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer
Courtesy of JUICE BEAUTY

Wearing sunscreen on a daily basis can often be a daunting prospect for oily skin types. The greasy, old-school formulas would often make combination and oil-prone skin even shinier. This SPF-packed moisturizer, on the other hand, is actually made specifically with oily skin types in mind. Non-comedogenic aloe and hyaluronic acid create a hydrating base while mineral-based zinc provides broad-spectrum protection. The formula also includes essential nutrients like vitamins C, E, and B5 to keep the skin radiant and healthy. Shine-free suncare at last!

5. Best Glow-Boosting Sunscreen:

TULA SKINCARE Protect + Glow Daily Sunscreen SPF 30 Gel

TULA SKINCARE Protect + Glow Daily Sunscreen SPF 30 Gel

This broad-spectrum, oil-free sunscreen lotion is another great option for anyone with oily or combination skin—or anyone who just loves the lightweight feel of oil-free moisturizers. The non-comedogenic formula features reef-safe SPF 30 (the dermatologist recommended daily amount) as well as pineapple and papaya extracts. These two fruity additions help to boost brightness, making it appear glowier instantly and over time. "Love this stuff a million times and more," says one Ipster. "My face feels amazing when I use this!" Another adds, "It brightens my face just a little without any other product, and it isn't greasy, which is a plus!"

6. Best Spray Sunscreen:

COOLA Mineral Body Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 30

COOLA Mineral Body Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 30
Courtesy of COOLA

If you're doing a clean beauty cleanse, spray formulas are often the first to go as most don't contain reef-safe sunscreen ingredients. However, if you're a devoted spray formula fan, finding a reef-friendly option isn't entirely out of the question. This mineral formula from COOLA provides hydrating, chemical-free sun protection that's good for you and marine life. It's made with 70% organic ingredients—two of which include non-nano zinc oxide and an antioxidant-rich plant complex that fights free radicals. One important thing to keep in mind when using spray sunscreens (chemical or mineral): They can be dangerous if inhaled. For that reason, Akhavan says, "I recommend only spraying them when outdoors and keeping any mist as far away from the face and neck as possible."

7. Best Water-Resistant Sunscreen:

SHISEIDO Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen

SHISEIDO Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen
Courtesy of SHISEIDO

This science-forward formula combines SHISEIDO's WetForce Technology with its HeatForce Technology to create a water-resistant sunscreen formula that actually gets stronger when it's exposed to heat and water. If you're planning on hopping in and out of the pool or getting sweaty during an outdoor workout, you can trust this sport sunscreen to keep you sunburn-free for up to 80 minutes. This formula leaves no white cast, is free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, and is compliant with Hawaii regulations. It's even gentle enough that it can be used on both the body and the face.

8. Best Sunscreen for Dry Skin:

SUPERGOOP! Body Butter SPF 40

SUPERGOOP! Body Butter SPF 40
Courtesy of SUPERGOOP!

Another SUPERGOOP! sunscreen FTW. This rich body butter is an ideal pick for anyone who is prone to dry skin. The super creamy texture and subtle clove and vanilla scent also make it a perfect addition to your winter skincare routine (yes, you definitely still need to be applying sunscreen in the wintertime). Lather it on dry, dehydrated skin to deeply replenish moisture while also keeping it protected from UVA and UVB rays.

9. Best Sunscreen for Mature Skin:

PURLISSE BEAUTY Blue Lotus Essential Daily Moisturizer SPF30

PURLISSE BEAUTY Blue Lotus Essential Daily Moisturizer SPF30

This formula works overtime to fight signs of premature aging from all angles. The broad-spectrum sunscreen keeps the skin shielded from future signs of aging by offering daily sun protection in the form of SPF 30. It also minimizes any current signs of aging with Blue Lotus extract, algae extract, and vitamin E. Blue Lotus is packed with antioxidants that fight off free radical damage while algae improves the skin's elasticity, making fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable.

"This is my new favorite sunblock," one Ipster writes. "It's great for my dry skin and works well under makeup."

10. Best Smoothing Sunscreen:

FENTY SKIN Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30

FENTY SKIN Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen
Courtesy of FENTY SKIN

This ultra-lightweight, vegan formula blocks UVA and UV rays while also doing so much more. The oil-free moisturizer looks totally invisible on the skin and thanks to the inclusion of niacinamide, it even blurs pores, controls excess oil production, and evens out the skin tone.

Plus, if you're serious about choosing environmentally friendly products, this formula goes beyond being reef safe by also cutting down on waste. The sustainable packaging is refillable. Rather than ordering an entirely new moisturizer when one runs out, you can simply get a new cartridge and pop it into the moisturizer dispenser.

11. Best Sunscreen for Blemish-Prone Skin:

KINSHIP Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32

KINSHIP Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32
Courtesy of KINSHIP

If most sunscreens tend to aggravate your acne-prone skin, reach for this mineral formula that features probiotics. KINSHIP's proprietary pre-probiotic blend keeps your skin expertly balanced, helping the good bacteria to flourish while fighting off acne-causing bacteria. Turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties also come into play here to soothe any current breakouts. Finally, you don't have to choose between sun protection and clear skin.

12. Best Non-Greasy Body Sunscreen:

EVERYDAY HUMANS OH MY BOD! SPF50 Body Sunscreen

EVERYDAY HUMANS OH MY BOD! SPF50 Body Sunscreen
Courtesy of EVERYDAY HUMANS

This body sunscreen keeps things refreshingly simple. It's a chemical formula that trades oxybenzone and octinoxate for eco-friendly alternatives like homosalate and octocrylene. It feels lightweight on the skin and leaves a matte, non-greasy finish. Plus, the summery natural fragrance is a welcome change from the powdery scent we often associate with old-school sunblock.

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About the author
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Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated July 24, 2023 12:00 AM