Is Reef-Safe Sunscreen a Scam?

Last Updated on March 20, 2023 by Jess

If you haven’t heard of reef-safe sunscreen, it’s time you did. You’ve probably heard of mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.

You’ve seen lotions, sprays and mists on the shelves of local stores. With so many sunscreens to choose from, it’s hard to know what to choose.

You may want to be environmentally conscious while providing the best protection for your skin. With reef safe sunscreen, you can do your part to save the world’s coral reefs and protect your skin with safe ingredients.

Learn what reef safe sunscreen is and why it’s so important!

What is reef safe sunscreen?

While there are no regulations for what “reef-safe” sunscreen means, the basic idea is that these sunscreens are better for the well-being of coral reefs. Harmful chemicals in other types of sunscreens can damage reefs.

In fact, Hawaii passed a law in 2018 banning sunscreens containing oxybenzone and/or octinoxate.

The bill states, “The legislature finds that the use of chemical-based sunscreens is detrimental to the health of coral reef ecosystems in Hawaii.

The National Ocean Service notes that chemicals in lotion and aerosol sunscreens can impair plant growth, cripple and deform animals, and contribute to coral bleaching.

Sunscreens enter the ocean when people swim in the water. Wastewater from swimming pools and showers also enters the ocean through stormwater and sewage.

In recent years, therefore, sunbathers have increasingly switched to reef-safe sunscreens.

A person applies reef-safe sunscreen

Is reef safe sunscreen a scam?

Reef-safe is not regulated at all compared to FDA-regulated attributes such as broad spectrum, water resistance and SPF.

Nothing definitively explains what these types of sunscreens can or cannot do. Therefore, much of the hype about reef-safe sunscreens is due to marketing.

Reef-safe sunscreens, however, really do exist. With coral reefs declining worldwide, it is vital to their existence that we do our part to protect them. You should also avoid certain ingredients and watch the amounts.

The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL) has published a list that includes these harmful chemicals that pose a threat to ecosystem health. This list includes parabens, oxybenzone, octinoxate, nylon powder, any form of microplastic beads or spheres, and more.

How do I know if a sunscreen is reef safe?

Don’t rely on the label on the front that says “reef safe” sunscreen. You need to read the ingredients. The HEL list will tell you all the harmful chemicals that could damage coral reefs.

You should also use mineral sunscreens that are micro-sized or without nanoparticles. These lotions do not contain nanoparticles that can be toxic.

It’s also a good idea to use lotions instead of sprays or mists. Many of these sunscreens contain titanium dioxide, which can also be harmful if inhaled.

What harmful chemicals are in other sunscreens that harm coral reefs?

In addition to the harmful chemicals already mentioned, there are other ingredients that should be avoided: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, para-aminobenzoic acid, triclosan, homosalate, octisalate, and butyloctylsalicylic acid.

You can also find sunscreens that use Orgasol’s polyamide products, polyester plastic powders, nylon glitter, polyester glitter, HDI/trimethylol hexyllactone cross polymers, polycaprolactones, and polyethylene powders or fibers.

All of these ingredients can potentially damage coral reefs, contributing to their global decline.

Please note:

What are some examples of reef-safe sunscreens?

If you want to do your part to protect coral reefs, here are three examples of reef-safe sunscreens. Remember, these sunscreens make their way into the ocean whether you’re swimming at a local recreational pool or playing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Highest rating: Kokua Sun Care

This mineral sunscreen from Kokua Sun Care, rated 4.5/5 stars, provides 80 minutes of water resistance. It also provides protection from UVA and UVB rays. Since it applies clear, you don’t have to worry about white marks and streaks like other sunscreens.

The active ingredient of non-nano zinc oxide provides superior protection, while Hawaiian-grown plant extracts of Hawaiian kukui nut oil, Hawaiian macadamia nut oil, Hawaiian spirulina, noni and plumeria hydrate and moisturize your skin.

One reviewer states, “It was really important to me that the sunscreen I buy be reef safe, but some of the other options on the market didn’t have the best reviews. This stuff is AMAZING!

It smells great, has natural ingredients, is reef safe, and WORKS better than any other sunscreen I’ve ever tried! I bought four bottles and tell everyone I know about this stuff because I love it so much.”

The best for sensitive skin: MANDA Organic Sun Paste.

This organic sun paste is one of the best options for sensitive skin. It is also very environmentally friendly as it is cruelty and chemical free.

It offers SPF 50 for superior sun protection and is made from high quality, food grade, natural and organic ingredients. This MANDA sun paste contains non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient.

Other natural ingredients include organic coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, thanaka, cocoa powder, shea butter and cinnamon oil.

A satisfied customer writes: “I LOVE THIS STUFF! It works well, lasts forever and has a great smell. I use it for surfing, hiking, tennis or other active outdoor sports.

It acts like a physical protective layer and I know I am not putting untested chemicals into my body. I am thrilled to have found this product and will remain a loyal customer.

MANDA Organic Sun Paste - Natural, Reef & Ocean Safe - SPF 50 Sunscreen - Thanaka & Organic Ingredients for Active Lifestyles - Surfers, Hikers, Cyclists, Athlete Sunblock paste - 1.4oz

MANDA Organic Sun Paste – Natural, Reef & Ocean Safe – SPF 50 Sunscreen – Thanaka & Organic Ingredients for an Active Lifestyle – Surfer, Hiker, Cyclist, Athlete Sunblock Paste – 1.4oz

  • PERFORMANCE: Our performance-driven SPF 50 formula is specially formulated for surfers, climbers, hikers, athletes,…
  • INGREDIENTS: MANDA Organic Sun Paste is made from the highest quality natural and organic food grade ingredients,…

Budget-friendly: Raw Elements Natural sunscreen for face and body.

Many natural, organic, reef-safe products are more expensive than their less eco-friendly counterparts. But this sunscreen from Raw Elements is a great option for sun worshippers on a budget.

This product is non-GMO, titanium dioxide-free, non-nano, cruelty-free, and reef-safe. But it also works. This natural sunscreen provides broad spectrum sun protection with an SPF of 30. It is gentle on sensitive skin and is easy to apply.

One customer titled her review “Holy Grail Sunscreen” and says, “I can’t use chemical sunscreens without getting breakouts, but mineral sunscreens that don’t dry out the skin, leave a horrible white cast, or are greasy have been next to impossible to find.

Also, it’s always important to me that my products are environmentally friendly, as natural as possible, reef safe, etc. This sunscreen has everything I’m looking for.”

Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Natural Sunscreen - Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Cruelty Free, SPF 30+, All Ages Safe, Moisturizing, Reusable Tin, 3oz.

Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Natural Sunscreen – Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, 95% Organic, Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Cruelty Free, SPF 30+, All Ages Safe, Moisturizing, Reusable Tin, 3oz.

  • DAILY USE FOR ALL AGES – The gentle, moisturizing formula can be used as part of your daily skin care routine and is…
  • DAILY USE FOR ALL AGES – The gentle, moisturizing formula can be used as part of your daily skin care routine and is gently…

Other ways to protect yourself from the sun

Protecting coral reefs is important for our planet, but protecting your skin from the sun is also important. Besides choosing a reef-safe sunscreen, there are other ways to protect your skin.

Use sun protective clothing

Always wear sun protective clothing when hiking, biking, paddling or any other outdoor recreational activity.

There are clothes designed specifically for outdoor enthusiasts that have a high SPF. Even with long sleeves, you will not get hot because of the material used and protect your skin from sun damage.


Accessories with sunglasses and hat

You should not only protect your arms and legs with clothes that have a high SPF, but also your eyes and head.

Wear sunglasses when outdoors. Cover your head with a sun protection hat. Choose a wide-brimmed hat with a neck flap for even more protection for your face and neck.

Close up of beach paraphernalia

Avoid the sun during rush hours

You may think that getting a perfect tan is especially important during spring or summer vacations, but this is very dangerous. Avoid being in the sun in the afternoon, when the rays are strongest.

Avoid being outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., even in winter and at altitudes where you think you don’t have to worry about the sun’s harmful rays. Take an evening walk or get up early to jog at sunrise.

Protect our coral reefs by using reef-safe sunscreens this summer

Protect both your skin and our coral reefs this summer by using reef-safe sunscreen. Don’t let the labels fool you. Read the ingredients used in the product.

No matter where you go swimming, harmful chemicals can get into our water, the world’s most precious resource. They can harm plant and animal life and even our own health. If we all do our part to save coral reefs, we can protect our oceans for future generations.

Have you ever thought of using a reef-safe sunscreen?

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