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Sunscreen is a key part of your daily skin care routine any time of the year and in summer it’s especially important: The sun and its UV rays are at peak strength, and proper broad-spectrum sunscreen is essential for protecting yourself from sun damage and skin cancer.
But it’s also important to take the environment into consideration, particularly if you live along a coastline or are planning to travel to a beach this summer. Some ingredients in sunscreen harm coral reefs as they come off your body while you’re swimming, leading to coral bleaching. Unfortunately, the key ingredients in many sunscreens, namely oxybenzone and octinoxate, are the exact culprits you want to avoid. Aerosol sunscreens can also spray harmful ingredients into the sand, making those a no-go, too. Instead, look for broad spectrum, non-nano mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide (yes, it can make you look a little chalky) to help protect against UVA rays.
Some other things to take into account when buying reef-safe sunscreen include price, SPF rating (for example, SPF 50 sunscreen filters allow 1/50 of the sun’s burning rays to get to the skin; SPF 15 allows 1 in 15) and what you'll be doing (are you just lounging on the sand or playing volleyball before you strap on a snorkel?).
To make your search a little less arduous, we rounded up the best reef-safe sunscreens to use on your next beach trip. Whether you’re looking for something for your face, for sports, or for the little ones or want an organic option, check out our top picks below and enjoy your next snorkel or scuba trip without feeling guilty about harming the environment.
Best Overall: ThinkSport
When it comes to reef-safe sunscreens, there’s very few that can compete with ThinkSport, which marries a darn good water-resistant formula with a price tag that’s almost half that of the competition, when you factor in you’re getting a six-ounce bottle instead of a three-ounce. Other bonuses? It has very little scent and rubs in clear — no white noses here! SPF 50 provides plenty of sun protection, and it’s paraben-free as well. The six-ounce tube — many sunscreens are four ounces or less — means there’s plenty of the stuff for a day on the beach with the whole crew.
Best Budget: Blue Lizard
Virtually any of Blue Lizard’s products are great, but the all-rounder “regular” formulation is a major crowd pleaser. Formulated with zinc oxide, this SPF 30 option water-resistant enough that it keeps its sun protection maintained after four hours of water activity (and that’s using Australian standards, which means whirl-pooled water). At five ounces for about $15, it’s slightly cheaper than other options, and it has a hidden bonus feature as well: The cap turns blue when it — and, presumably, you — are exposed to UV rays.
Best for Face: Eir NYC Surf Mud
Eir NYC Surf Mud is a great reef-friendly pick for faces, thanks to its inclusion of zinc oxide (with SPF 50 powers) as well as hydrating cocoa butter and cocoa powder, which delivers antioxidants that neutralizes free radicals and increases cellular healing. Vitamin E oil comes in to boost collagen production, while tea tree is great for those with acne, helps heal sunburned skin and acts as a natural bug repellant. It’s hair-friendly, making it great to apply along parts, and it also comes in a stick form that’s just as well-beloved.
Best for Babies: Badger SPF 30 Baby Sunscreen Cream
The Environmental Working Group loves Badger’s line of sunscreens, and for good reason: The zinc oxide-powered sunscreen is USDA-certified organic and reef-friendly, and the brand is part of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, meaning anything questionable is left out of its formulas. Its hypoallergenic, pediatrician-approved formula for babies is both water-resistant for 40 minutes — enough time for a paddle in a pool — and paraben-free.
Best Organic: Manda Organic Sun Paste
This paste sunscreen is one of the best organic formulations around. The SPF 50, reef-safe formulation is made of food-grade ingredients, like organic coconut oil, cinnamon oil, and cocoa butter, as well as Thanaka, a sustainable, antioxidant-rich ground tree bark from Myanmar that’s been used for two millennia as a natural sun protectant. Thanks to its gentle but effective ingredients, Manda is also a great choice for sensitive skin and for kids.
Best for Sensitive Skin: MD Solar Sciences Mineral Crème SPF 30
Those with sensitive skin, rejoice: This sunscreen, which includes reef-friendly zinc oxide, is a barely-there, broad-spectrum formulation that won’t clog pores and is great for those with easily-irritable complexions — including people prone to acne and rosacea. Antioxidants like added Vitamin C, green tea, cranberry and pomegranate help fight off free radicals. Best of all, it blends into the skin quickly to leave a matte finish — no shiny foreheads with this sunscreen.
Best for Everyday: Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen w/Cellular Response Technology
One of the hardest parts about sunscreen is remembering to apply it everyday — and oftentimes, the dabbles of SPF in moisturizer or foundations just don’t cut it like actual sunscreen. Behold this behemoth: Supergoop’s 18-ounce pump bottle — excellent value for the price — sits neatly next to your sink or on your bathroom shelf, so it’s unmissable in the mornings. The formula, which is free of oxybenzone, is light and thin enough that you can apply makeup on top in five minutes, and it doesn’t leave men with the dreaded white stubble. Be warned: There’s a strong smell at first, which can be par for the course with zinc sunscreens, but it quickly disappears.