Reef-Safe Sunscreen: 5 Ocean-Friendly Sun Protection Options

by Candice Land
reef safe sunblock

As two surfers who love the ocean, we make a conscientious effort to treat it with respect when playing on its turf. This includes using reef-safe sunscreen that is eco-friendly and not harmful to the ocean. With so many options on the market, how do you tell which is reef-friendly sunscreen?

* Just to let you know that this article may contain affiliate links. If you click on them we might receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

We’re going to dive into the components that make sunscreen dangerous to the ocean’s coral, as well as suggest some of the best reef-safe sunscreens on the market. Surfing, snorkeling, and swimming in the ocean is a privilege, and looking after the reef is just one simple way to say thank you.

Looking for the perfect gift for a surfer? Read our blog with suggestions here.

The Dangerous Components In Sunblock: Oxybenzone And Octinoxate

If you’re going out in the heat of a summer day without protection then you’ll quickly know the dangerous risks of UV rays. Sunscreen is one of the essential packing items for travel. It is also a top surfing ‘accessory’ that is necessary for a fun day out on the water.

However, two of the UV-filtering elements in sunblock are very hazardous for the ocean. These include oxybenzone and octinoxate. Global warming is already having a negative effect on corals as the warm water causes them to bleach and many sunblocks only worsen this effect.

Some sunscreens with these ingredients can induce the same bleaching properties. When corals absorb oxybenzone and octinoxate, it not only bleaches the coral but also puts them at risk of infection.

When you’re next shopping for surfing or ocean-friendly necessities, make sure that you add oxybenzone-free sunscreen to your list. Here are other key details to look out for;

  • Sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate in the listed ingredients
  • Mineral-based sunscreen, with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, get the thumbs up as they are less harmful and don’t contribute to bleaching
  • Any indication of “non-nano” means that the ingredient particles are above 100 nanometers in size and therefore can’t be ingested by coral
  • Reef-safe labels are also a good indication (but double-check ingredients anyway)

We’ve also put a list together of the best surf wax for surfboards for different waters, read the blog here.

Top 5 Reef Safe Sunblocks

You may be asking yourself several questions, like is Sun Bum reef-safe? The guidelines above should help, but here are a few that come highly recommended.

1.   Manda Organic Sunpaste SPF 50

Manda Organic Sunpaste SPF 50

Manda Organic Sunpaste is designed with surfers and outdoor-lovers in mind. You can layer the paste as thick as you want on top of the skin and enjoy your time in the sun knowing that you’re protected from its harmful UV rays.

Loved as “nature’s best solution for sun protection”, Manda is free from dangerous chemicals. Even the packaging is environmentally-friendly, made from bamboo and recycled tin. The organic paste is made with thanaka, a pale yellow paste derived from pulverized tree bark.

In addition, the paste is 100% natural and good for your skin – while also being water-resistant and perfect for surfing. Apply the paste before and after being in the sun, and you’re sorted! Manda paste is particularly useful if you’re surfing in tropical waters that are warm enough to spend hours in.

Read more about the best places to surf in June here.

2.   Sun Bum Original SPF 50

Buy Sun Bum Original SPF 50 here

You’ll be pleased to know that your favorite Sun Bum face sunscreen is reef friendly! The fragrance-free moisturizing sunscreen is designed with everyday use in mind. It strives to leave your face feeling moisturized no matter how many hours you spend in the salty water.

It’s best to apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun. It should be reapplied after 80 minutes to two hours. With this in mind, it’s best for shorter surf sessions.

The broad-spectrum sunscreen is designed to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. We can advocate that you “trust the bum” and choose the oxybenzone and octinoxate-free sunscreen when given the chance.

3.   Blue Lizard SPF 50+

Buy Blue Lizard SPF 50+ here

Have you ever wondered – is Blue Lizard sunscreen reef-safe? Now, you don’t have to. The blue little lizard logo may not be an ocean animal, but it is most certainly ocean-friendly. As a mineral sunscreen, it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. Instead, it has active mineral ingredients including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

A bottle is appropriate for sensitive skin and offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 50. The cream is fragrance-free and water-resistant, meaning that your time in the ocean will be completely undisturbed.

Take note that each bottle of Blue Lizard is slightly different and will offer different levels of protection and varying durations of protection. Make sure that you read up carefully and pick the correct bottle!

4.   Raw Elements Organic SPF 30 Zinc Sunscreen

Buy Raw Elements Organic Zinc SPF 30 here

Raw Elements produces another top-of-the-range environmentally-friendly sunscreen that is specifically designed with performance in mind. This means that surfers, snorkelers, swimmers, and kayakers can all enjoy hours in the sun, knowing that both their bodies and the coral are protected.

The cream is suitable for both adults and children, of all varying skin types. It’s even appropriate for daily use, with moisturizing qualities. In addition to being reef-safe, the sunscreen is also non-GMO and sold in recyclable packaging.

If you’re surfing nomads, like us, then you shouldn’t jump on the plane without your bottle of Raw Elements. The brand provides an easy way to keep the harmful rays off of your skin and the sunscreen out of your eyes.

Read more about which countries offer digital nomad visas (and how many of them are surfing destinations).                                      

5.   ThinkSport Sunscreen SPF 50+

Buy ThinkSport SPF 50+ here

Dynamite comes in small packages, and this has never been more accurate than with ThinkSport’s liquid sunscreen. ThinkSport is a favorite for many, offering an SPF 50 plus that is water resident and has broad-spectrum sun protection.

The liquid is absorbed quickly after being applied and doesn’t leave the skin feeling oily (like many sunscreens do). As a water-resistant sunscreen, you’re offered 80 minutes of guilt-free sun protection.

The mineral-based formula is designed with athletes – including water-based athletes in mind. It will make you feel like a pro no matter how much of a kook you are!

Hawaii Sunscreen Ban

Did you know that it’s been revealed that 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the coral reefs each year? That’s a lot of oxybenzone and octinoxate. And that’s a lot of risk for the coral reef. While we highly recommend using eco-friendly sunscreen as best practice, Hawaii has raised the bar. In 2018, the state banned the sale and distribution of non-ocean-friendly sunscreen. But the law was only recently passed and made “official” in January 2021.

It’s said that their decision has introduced a new era of sun protection. We can’t help but applaud them – mentally and physically.

Hawaii is leading the way in safe ocean practices and insisting on reef-safe sunscreen. We encourage you to follow in their footsteps.

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