Tech & Gear Security The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens of 2023, Tested and Reviewed Protect yourself and fragile ocean ecosystems with these reef-friendly picks By Jessica Macdonald Jessica Macdonald Facebook LinkedIn King's College London Jessica Macdonald lives in South Africa's Eastern Cape province and has been TripSavvy's Africa Expert since 2016. She also covers travel products and has written about everything from camping knives to climbing chalk. TripSavvy's editorial guidelines Updated on 03/13/23 Share Pin Email We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links we provide, we may receive compensation. Learn more. TripSavvy / Amelia Manley If you’re planning a summer vacation to the coast, you’ll likely spend plenty of time in the water—whether you’re a kiteboarding fanatic, have a passion for snorkeling, or are simply looking forward to playing with the kids in the surf. We all know the importance of consistently applying sunscreen to protect ourselves from burning, skin cancers, and premature aging. But if you’re going to be in the ocean, choosing a reef-safe sunscreen is equally essential for the environment (and a legal requirement in some places, including Hawaii). Dermatologist Dr. Claire Wolinsky cautions that “reef-safe” labels have limited authenticity since they aren’t based on meaningful in-environment testing. However, she and other experts agree that there are some choices we can make to help protect coral reefs. These include choosing natural, mineral sunscreens over chemical ones where possible, with those containing non-nano zinc oxide as first prize. And if you prefer chemical sunscreen, ensuring it doesn’t contain coral-bleaching oxybenzone or octinoxate is key. To help you navigate the reef-safe minefield, we tested 24 of the most ethical products currently on the market. Each was evaluated in a real-life setting and scored for feel, opacity, transfer, and water resistance. Our overall winner was the Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, chosen for its hydrating feel, matte finish, and absence of any white cast. Discover the other reef-safe sunscreens we tested here. The Rundown Best Overall: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen at Amazon Jump to Review Best for Families: Hello Bello Mineral SPF 50+ Sunscreen Lotion at Walmart Jump to Review Best Lotion: Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Sun Milk Body Lotion SPF 50 at Amazon Jump to Review Best Anti-Aging: Biossance Sheer Mineral Sunscreen at Amazon Jump to Review Best Body: Suntegrity Mineral Body Sunscreen at Amazon Jump to Review Best Fragrance-Free: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 at Amazon Jump to Review Best Water-Resistant : Maui Naturals Surfer Honey All Natural Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 at Amazon Jump to Review Best Stick: MDSolarSciences Tinted Solar Stick SPF 40 at Amazon Jump to Review Table of contents Expand Our Picks Final Verdict Other Options We Tested How We Tested What To Look For FAQ Why Trust TripSavvy Best Overall Pipette Mineral Sunscreen 5 Amazon View On Amazon View On Walmart View On Target Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 4.8/5 Opacity 5/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Easy to dispense and apply Matte finish without any dryness Pediatrician approved What We Don't Like The lack of fragrance may be a con for some The dermatologist-tested and pediatrician-approved Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is a hypoallergenic option developed especially for babies–but it works just as well for the rest of the family, especially those with sensitive skin. The active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, while sugarcane-derived squalane delivers weightless moisture and restores the skin’s natural balance. We found that despite being completely non-greasy, it left our skin hydrated. And even though our tester has sensitive skin, she didn’t experience any irritation or redness. We particularly liked the sunscreen’s creamy texture and lightweight consistency, which made it easy to dispense and apply evenly over the skin. It absorbed quickly, resulting in a seamlessly blended look with no white cast or pilling. The sunscreen is non-comedogenic (it doesn’t block pores), completely fragrance-free (another major benefit for sensitive skin), and stayed set when exposed to running water during our test wears. Overall, it’s a great addition to your vacation packing list at a very reasonable price point. Price at time of publication: $16 for 4 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Best for Families Hello Bello Mineral SPF 50+ Sunscreen Lotion 4.8 Walmart View On Walmart View On CVS View On Vitacost Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 4.5/5 Opacity 4.8/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Non-greasy, non-dehydrating texture Zero white cast Water-resistant for up to 80 minutes What We Don't Like Slightly tacky feel Hello Bello’s Mineral SPF 55+ Sunscreen has been dermatologist-tested and proven to provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection for adults and kids alike. It contains non-nano zinc oxide and hypoallergenic, naturally soothing ingredients, including cocoa seed butter, avocado, cucumber, and chamomile. The consistency is somewhere between lotion and cream, and we found it easy to dispense and apply, with a pleasant texture that absorbed quickly into the skin. It only required a few moments of rubbing in to eliminate any white cast. The sunscreen is non-greasy and non-drying. However, we did find that it still felt slightly tacky 15 minutes after application—although it wasn’t significant enough to bother our tester, who also commented that despite vigorous rubbing with a black shirt, there was barely any transfer onto her clothes. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes, stood up well to our water exposure tests, and is vegan and cruelty-free. One thing to consider—it has a strong lemony scent that we wish was indicated on the packaging. Price at time of publication: $9 for 2.93 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Best Lotion Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Sun Milk Body Lotion SPF 50 4.5 Target View On Amazon View On Target View On Walgreens Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 5/5 Opacity 5/5 Water Resistance 4/5 What We Like Island-inspired scent Easy, one-handed dispensing PETA-certified vegan and cruelty-free What We Don't Like The pump bottle may leak in transit Available in SPF 30 or SPF 50, Hawaiian Tropic’s Mineral Sun Milk Body Lotion is ideal for anyone who prefers a lighter, more watery consistency. It uses 100 percent mineral actives to provide broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection and features coconut and kukui nut for added nourishment. We also love the island-inspired scent, which includes notes of guava, plumeria, passionfruit, mango, and papaya. It smells like the essence of a beach vacation, and even our tester, who typically prefers fragrance-free sunscreen, was a fan. We also liked how easy the sunscreen is to dispense, thanks to a pump top that allows for one-handed operation. We found that it blended easily and absorbed quickly, with no initial white cast after a light amount of rubbing in. However, the lotion appeared to become more visible when completely dry. Additionally, while it’s rated as water resistant for up to 80 minutes, there was some transfer when we rubbed it after getting wet—so we’d recommend reapplying as soon as you get out of the water, just to be safe. Price at time of publication: $14 for 3.4 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao The 8 Best UV Umbrellas of 2023 Best Anti-Aging Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen 4.5 Sephora View On Amazon View On Cultbeauty.com View On Kohls.com Our Ratings Feel 4.5/5 Transfer 4.5/5 Opacity 4/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Absorbs well It feels hydrating rather than greasy Completely fragrance-free What We Don't Like Not water-resistant Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen offers broad spectrum SPF 30 protection and can help combat fine lines and wrinkles. In addition to UVA- and UVB-combating zinc oxide, it harnesses the cooling, calming properties of water lily and the long-lasting moisture of sugarcane-derived squalane. We found it almost too easy to get out of the container, with a very liquid consistency that meant we overapplied it. Despite this, we were impressed with how quickly it absorbed and how easy it was to rub in. There was an initial white cast; however, this disappeared within 10 minutes. We could tell we were wearing sunscreen, but the overall effect was hydrating rather than greasy. When we deliberately rubbed clothes onto our skin, there was some minor transfer, although we don’t think this would be an issue with normal use. Finally, we loved that the sunscreen is entirely fragrance-free, reef-safe, vegan, and cruelty-free. The only improvement would be some water resistance, as the lack of it limits versatility. Price at time of publication: $46 for 3.4 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Best Body Suntegrity Mineral Body Sunscreen 4.9 Amazon View On Amazon View On Nordstrom View On Credo Beauty Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 4.5/5 Opacity 5/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Sheer, non-greasy feel Stood up well to water tests Subtle orange scent What We Don't Like Relatively expensive If you’re looking for a reef-safe sunscreen formulated especially for the body, we love Suntegrity’s Skincare Natural Mineral Body Sunscreen. It uses 20 percent non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide to offer broad-spectrum protection without exposure to parabens, phthalates, and other harsh chemicals. It features organic, antioxidant ingredients, including green tea extract and pomegranate seed oil. We found it easy to dispense and apply, with a lightweight lotion consistency that’s smooth without being watery. There was an initial white cast; however, the sunscreen absorbed quickly and blended well with our tester’s (admittedly pale) skin. It felt wonderfully non-greasy–so much so that we couldn’t tell we were wearing sunscreen except for the faint, light orange scent. As for transfer to other surfaces, we didn’t experience any with normal wear. The sunscreen remained set on our skin during the water test and even appeared to repel it slightly. It is, of course, reef-safe, and cruelty-free, vegan, and made from eco-friendly sugarcane packaging. Price at time of publication: $36 for 5 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Best Fragrance-Free Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 4.8 Amazon View On Amazon View On Walmart View On Herbspro.com Our Ratings Feel 4.5/5 Transfer 4.8/5 Opacity 5/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Leaves skin with a hydrated glow No dyes or fragrances Smart Cap technology What We Don't Like It may transfer slightly when wet Suffer from skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea? Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen offers SPF 50 protection and has been dermatologist-tested for use on sensitive skin with no chemicals, parabens, dyes, or fragrances (although we were able to detect a very faint natural scent). We liked the smooth, almost milky consistency, which was easy to dispense and apply and absorbed quickly with minimal rubbing in required. In fact, our tester found that the process was quicker than for many of her regular lotions. We didn’t experience any white cast. Instead, our skin felt silky and lightly hydrated, with a slight dewy glow. This reef-safe sunscreen claims to be water resistant for up to 80 minutes, and during testing, water was repelled and didn’t seem to affect the lotion’s integrity. There was some mild transfer onto our clothing afterward, though. Finally, this sunscreen comes with Smart Cap technology, whereby the bottle cap changes color when exposed to harmful UV light as a reminder that it’s time to apply (or reapply). Price at time of publication: $15 for 5 fluid ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao The 9 Best Tanning Oils of 2023 for Every Skin Type Best Water-Resistant Maui Naturals Surfer Honey All Natural Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 4.8 Amazon View On Amazon Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 4.5/5 Opacity 4.8/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Includes Hawaiian essential oils Zero irritation or dryness Easy to spread What We Don't Like It leaves a very slight white cast Maui Surfer Honey All Natural Sunscreen features non-nano zinc oxide and Maui-grown essential oils. It promises water resistance for up to 80 minutes, and of all the sunscreens we tried, this was the one that most impressed us during the water exposure section of our testing. Even when we rubbed water into our skin, it beaded on top of the sunscreen barrier and didn’t dissolve it at all. It’s easy to dispense, and although it has a slightly chalky feeling, it applied smoothly, spread well, and left skin feeling moisturized. We didn’t experience any irritation or dryness, and although it comes out of the bottle a light purplish gray color, it absorbed quickly and left a very minimal white cast. This was only noticeable when we compared sections of our skin to which we had and hadn’t applied it. The orange blossom and vanilla scent was pleasant and not overly intense. The only downside? There was some mild transfer when we deliberately rubbed areas with sunscreen onto a black shirt during testing. Price at time of publication: $23 for 3 fluid ounces Best Stick MDSolarSciences Tinted Solar Stick SPF 40 4.5 Amazon View On Amazon View On Beautifiedyou.com View On Dermstore Our Ratings Feel 5/5 Transfer 4/5 Opacity 4/5 Water Resistance 5/5 What We Like Convenient and ultra-portable Leaves skin glowing with no white cast Repels water well What We Don't Like Would prefer scented or truly fragrance-free MDSolarSciences’ Solar Stick SPF 40 is a hypoallergenic, dermatologist-developed option for on-the-go convenience. Perfectly sized to fit in your purse or backpack, it’s ideal for quick touch-ups throughout the day. We particularly loved the roll-on design and found it super easy to swipe onto our skin and to see how much product we used each time. The sunscreen is lightweight, with a creamy texture that rubs in easily. When we first applied it, we were worried about the noticeable white cast. However, after rubbing it in, it absorbed entirely except for a beautiful shimmer that left our tester’s dark skin looking glowing rather than ghostly. It felt like we were wearing nothing on our skin and wasn’t thick, greasy, or dry. When exposed to running water, we could see the physical barrier formed by the sunscreen. It didn’t run and felt the same as when dry. The only downsides were some mild transfer and the fact that although free from added fragrance, it has a faint, neutral scent. Price at time of publication: $22 for 0.6 ounces Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Final Verdict Our overall winner is the Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 from Pipette (view at Amazon), which we love for its moisturizing matte finish, lightweight consistency, and complete lack of fragrance–making it suitable for all ages and skin types. Other Reef-Safe Sunscreens We Tested Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral SunscreenBadger Active Sunscreen CreamCalifornia Baby Super Sensitive SPF 30 LotionAll Good Face & Body Sport Sunscreen LotionBabo Botanicals Clear Zinc SunscreenCOOLA Organic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50Kokua Sun Care Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50Stream2Sea Sport SPF 30 Mineral SunscreenOlita Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30Reef Repair Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30+Raw Love All Natural Mineral SunscreenEarth Mama Organics Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen LotionRaw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural SunscreenMama Kuleana Waterproof SPF 30 Reef-Safe SunscreenBabo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Sunscreen Stick SPF 30MANDA Organic Sun Paste How We Tested All products were tested at least seven times for two weeks. Each time we applied the sunscreen, we took note of its feel, smell, and how seamlessly it blended into our skin. If there was any initial white cast, we monitored whether it improved with absorption after 15 minutes. Next, we deliberately rubbed our skin with a black shirt to see how easily it transferred onto other surfaces. Finally, we exposed the sunscreen to running water for several minutes to test its water resistance. Each product was scored from 1 to 5 for feel, opacity, transfer, and water resistance, with average scores dictating our category winners. 0:29 Reef Sunscreen (Tripsavvy) What to Look for in Reef-Safe Sunscreens SPF Rating SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a rating given to sunscreen to indicate how long you can spend in the sun without burning. For example, a correctly applied SPF 15 sunscreen should last 15 times longer without burning than if you wore no sunscreen. Professional medical and cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Claire Wolinsky says that “SPF 30 is the standard to aim for in the United States” because it affords the highest level of protection from UVA and UVB rays. However, she says that the curve flattens at SPF 30, so the added benefit of an SPF 50 or higher sunscreen is minimal. Waterproofness If you’re looking for reef-safe sunscreen, chances are you plan on getting wet. And although no sunscreen is waterproof, many are water resistant–meaning that they set on your skin and remain unaffected by exposure to water for a given length of time. Water-resistant sunscreens should state how many minutes of swim time they give you on the label (usually up to 80). Dr. Wolinsky recommends opting for a mineral sunscreen rather than a chemical one if water resistance is a priority because they form a physical barrier on the skin that’s naturally more resistant to all kinds of moisture. TripSavvy / Jessica Juliao Ingredients Unfortunately, “reef-safe” labels are not currently regulated because, as Dr. Wolinsky points out, there hasn’t been enough in-environment testing to know how different sunscreen types and ingredients affect coral long-term. So, just because a sunscreen says it’s reef-safe doesn’t necessarily mean it is. You should always check the ingredients list. For chemical sunscreens, the main priority is making sure the formula doesn’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate since these chemicals have been proven to cause coral bleaching. Mineral sunscreens are usually a more environmentally friendly choice since they are chemical and paraben free. However, titanium dioxide is also problematic for coral reefs since it’s been shown that it converts to hydrogen peroxide with exposure to saltwater. Your best option is to choose a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide as its active ingredient. Finally, opt for one that specifically mentions “non-nano” zinc oxide since nanoparticles may be toxic to marine life if ingested in large quantities. Recycled, recyclable, and/or non-plastic packaging is preferable. Tripsavvy / Jessica Juliao Frequently Asked Questions How often should I reapply sunscreen? Dr. Wolinsky reiterates the instructions found on the packaging of all responsible sunscreen brands: sun protection should be reapplied every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating. This is true even if the clouds come out because 80 percent of UV rays still penetrate on overcast days. She says that in her experience, forgetting to reapply or choosing not to for convenience’s sake is one of the most common causes of sunburn. She goes on to advise that reapplying is therefore even more important than using the correct quantity of sunscreen in the first place. How can I tell if my sunscreen has expired? Many tubes or bottles have an expiration date printed somewhere, usually in small, white letters. Others have an open jar symbol with a number and the letter M–this indicates the number of months that you can use the product after opening it. Otherwise, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dictates that all American-made sunscreens keep their original strength for at least three years, so if you only purchased yours last summer, you’re probably good to go. The caveat is if there are any changes in its consistency or color. This indicates that it’s defective and you need to buy a new bottle. What should I keep in mind if I have darker skin? Melanin, the chemical that causes skin pigmentation, is known to naturally absorb harmful sun rays; which is why people with darker skin can usually spend longer in the sun before starting to burn. However, all skin tones are susceptible to skin damage and cancers, as well as signs of premature aging including fine lines and wrinkles. For this reason, it’s advisable that people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds consistently use sunscreen whenever there is a chance of exposure, remembering to reapply every two hours for ultimate protection. How do I know if sunscreen is really reef-safe? Dr. Wolinsky says that currently, there hasn’t been enough in-environment testing to know whether a product is truly reef-safe. “Reef-safe” labels refer to the absence of two main chemicals that have been proven to cause coral bleaching: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Although there are reef-safe labeled chemical sunscreens, opting for a mineral sunscreen that uses organic, non-nano zinc oxide (rather than titanium dioxide, which studies have shown may react with seawater to form harmful hydrogen peroxide) as its active ingredient is a good rule of thumb. Why Trust TripSavvy Jessica Macdonald is a regular contributor of travel-related commerce articles for TripSavvy. She’s also the brand’s Africa travel expert and a professional scuba diving instructor. After many years living and working in tropical countries and seeing firsthand the damage humans can wreak on coral reefs, she’s very conscious of the importance of reef-safe sun protection. This article is also backed by real-life testing and informed by the input of medical and cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Claire Wolinsky. The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens of 2023, Tested and Reviewed Was this page helpful? Thanks for letting us know! Share Pin Email Tell us why! Submit Continue to 5 of 8 below.