9 Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

These reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen options are good for our oceans and coral reefs and are safe for your body too! Not to mention they are easy to apply and rub in, which means no pasty white sunscreen looks this summer!

Summer is here but before you get outside and start enjoying the beautiful summer weather it's important that you make sure to pick up a sunscreen that will both protect both your skin and our environment this season.

With growing research showing the impact that certain ingredients can have, not only on our health, but the health of our reefs and oceans, it's important now more than ever to think beyond just that SPF number written on the bottle, and start paying closer attention to the ingredients present in the sunscreen you are choosing.

The Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

What Do UVA, UVB, and Broadspectrum Sun Protection Mean?

For so long we have heard the words UVA, UVB, and Broadspectrum be used to describe sunscreen, but what do these terms really mean and why are they so important?

UVA and UVB are harmful rays from the sun which pass through our atmosphere and can cause premature skin aging, sunburns, skin cancer, and cause eye damage.

UVA rays are the kind of rays which we are most exposed to over the course of our lifetime and make up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth and are equally intense throughout the year. They are also capable of passing through clouds and glass windows so even on non-sunny days our bodies are still being exposed to them. UVA rays are also the kind of sun rays that penetrate into the skin more deeply and are most responsible for tanning, skin aging, wrinkles, and skin cancer.

UVB rays are the rays most responsible for sunburns and redness as they damage the outermost layer of the skin. They also can play a role in skin cancer and photoaging, but the intensity of UVB rays does vary throughout the year based on location and season. They can be particularly strong at high altitudes where they reflect off snow and ice.

Because UVB and UVA rays act differently on the body it is important that you are protecting yourself against both types of harmful sun rays with the sunscreen you choose. A broad spectrum sunscreen is one which protects against both UVB and UVA rays and should always be what you look for when choosing your sun protection.

The Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

Types Of Sunscreens: Chemical vs. Physical (Mineral)

Before you can pick the right sunscreen for you, it's important to know the difference between the two different kinds of sunscreen available for purchase, and what they protect (and don't protect) against.


Chemical sunscreens are sunscreens that contain compounds like: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, and avobenzone. These compounds work to protect the skin by absorbing into the skin and creating a chemical reaction that absorbs UV rays keeping them from ever penetrating the skin.

However, because chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin they also pass into the bloodstream and can make their way into other body fluids like breast milk, making chemical sunscreens potentially hazardous especially for breastfeeding women.

Oxybenzone is one ingredient that has been particularly damaging to coral reefs and has also be found in detectable concentrations in the bloodstream of children and adults, and the milk supply of breastfeeding women.

Pros of Chemical Sunscreen:

  • Easier to rub into the skin and is usually invisible once applied

Cons of Chemical Sunscreen:

  • Immediately protect the skin from the sun and do not require any wait time after application.

  • Absorbed into the skin and therefore into the bloodstream.

  • Some chemical blockers have been shown to increase the risk of free radicals and cause photosensitization

  • Endocrine/hormone-disrupting qualities and toxicity

  • Found to irritate the skin in those with sensitive skin or in babies and children

  • Chemical blockers have been linked to coral bleaching, which has had a detrimental impact on marine life.

The Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

Physical (Mineral)

Physical sunscreens contain minerals that work by sitting on top of your skin and reflect damaging UV rays away from your skin. These types of sunscreen are also known as "physical sun-blockers" and usually contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active protective mineral ingredient.

Pros Of Physical Sunscreen:

  • Physical sunscreens naturally block both UVA and UVB rays meaning that they are always a broad-spectrum sunscreen and will protect your skin from both kinds of harmful rays.

  • Better for sensitive skin and acne prone skin as the ingredients using in physical sunscreens is less likely to irritate the skin or clog pores.

  • Immediately protect the skin from the sun and do not require any wait time after application.

  • Ingredients are safe for our skin and do not cause damage to the environment

Cons of Physical Sunscreen:

  • Tend to be more difficult to rub into the skin when compared to chemical sunscreens and can leave a whitish color on the skin

  • Need to be reapplied frequently (every 2 hours) and can be rubbed off more easily when doing activities or swimming.

To put it simply, chemical sunscreens should always be avoided and hopefully, they will be discontinued altogether. But for now, it is important that you always look for physical (sometimes called mineral) sunscreens that you can be sure are safe for your body and your surrounding environment.

The Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid

  • Oxybenzone

  • Avobenzone

  • Cyclomethicone

  • Homosalate

  • Octocrylene

  • SLS, Parabens, Phthalates

What Does Reef-Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen Mean?

Now that we know the differences between the two types of sunscreen available, let's go over what specifically makes a sunscreen both coral-reef safe and biodegradable.

Biodegradable sunscreen means that the sunscreen is free of harmful chemical compounds that are damaging our world coral reefs and negatively impacting our marine ecosystems, and only contains ingredients that will break down naturally in the environment.

These sunscreens are most important to consider when swimming as sunscreens wash off your body in when you are in the water, and it is estimated that more than 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the ocean each year, in order to minimize damage to our marine life it is important that the sunscreen you choose always be biodegradable.

Because of the known damage to our coral reefs and marine life, today many travel destinations on the ocean are requiring the guests only use biodegradable sunscreens, and states like Hawaii have gone as far as to ban any sunscreen containing oxybenzone from the island.

The Best Reef Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen For Summer Fun

The Best Reef-Safe, Biodegradable Sunscreen Options To Choose from This Summer

Now that you know what to look for when choosing a safe sunscreen, let's get into the best reef-safe and biodegradable sunscreen options to choose from this summer.

Listed from left to right, top to bottom in the gallery above:

You really can’t go wrong with any of the above reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen options this summer, and you can rest assured that you are safely protecting both your skin and our environment.