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Reef Safe Sunscreen- Why It Matters and What You Should Look for

raw elements reefsafe sunscreen

Summer is almost here, y’all! Well, kind of. It’s February, so it’s more wishful thinking, but it will be here before you know it! And before it gets here and everyone starts getting ready for their beach vacations, I wanted to share something super fun and exciting- reef safe sunscreen.

Ok, so maybe it’s not super fun and exciting. But it is super important and necessary. I’ve been hearing about how horrible sunscreen is for you for a while. People have been becoming aware of chemical ridden products, and sunscreen is high on that list. However, I didn’t start thinking about the impact of sunscreen on oceans until watching this amazing documentary, Save the Reef (free on YouTube).

Why is sunscreen so bad?

The major active ingredient in typical sunscreen is oxybenzone. Studies have shown oxybenzone to be incredibly damaging to coral reefs, causing dna issues and bleaching as well as structural damage. Not only that, but it also negatively impacts aquatic life. One drop of oxybenzone can negatively contaminate up to 6.5 Olympic size swimming pools. WHAT?! We douse our bodies in sunscreen containing this chemical. Then we all congregate at the same beaches, and think of how badly that contaminates the ocean!

Why does it matter?

Since becoming a little more educated on climate change, I’ve known the coral reef is dying. While climate change is a major contributor, I’ve been learning that we humans have been doing more than our fair share of destroying one of nature’s most amazing wonders- by swimming with sunscreen.

By continuing to add these chemicals into the waterways and oceans, we are slowly killing the coral reefs and harming ocean life. Remember when everyone was upset about the Amazon rainforest dying? Part of the reason was because that ecosystem is responsible for absorbing mass amounts of carbon dioxide from the air. The coral reefs aborb about the same amount of carbon dioxide as the rainforest.

I’m not going to spend too much time going into why coral reefs are so important. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to read this and educate yourself!

reef safe sunscreen

So what should I look for?

READ. THE. INGREDIENTS. Know what to look for, and immediately look at the ingredients on the sunscreen. DO NOT trust a product just because it says reef safe. This product would be a prime example. It’s one of the top results when you search for reef safe sunscreen on Google or Amazon. But by taking an incredibly quick look at the ingredients, the top 3 are the worst offenders.

Reef safe is not a regulated term. This means there is no FDA or other type of administration ensuring companies meet specific guidelines before using this verbiage. Basically, anyone can claim this. Unfortunately, it’s up to us, the consumers, to make sure a product is what it says it is before buying it.

Listen. Eco-friendly is trendy right now. Companies know this. They’ll do whatever they can to market the same old product to you as a “cleaner” product when it’s not. “Clean”, “natural”, “eco friendly”, “plant powered”- these words mean nothing. Do your research, check labels, and don’t support those companies with your hard earned dollars. At the end of the day, ask yourself if the big corporations really care about the coral reefs and the health of the ocean, or are they more concerned with the bottom line? It’s a pretty obvious answer and why I’m a little picky about where I’m starting to buy these products.

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients to avoid:

  • oxybenzone
  • octinoxate
  • homosalate
  • octisalate
  • octocrylene
  • benzophenone
  • formaldehyde
  • methylisothiazolinone

What to look for in sunscreen

What you really want to look for is, first of all, natural ingredients, and also non-nanotized ingredients like zinc oxide. Zinc oxide or other chemicals are starting to be broken down into nano particles so that they don’t appear as white. However, this is more harmful to the ocean and coral reefs. So watch out for that!


Let’s just get it out of the way. The better sunscreen is way more expensive. It just is. But listen. We can go into Target and easily spend $200 on literally nothing of importance. Or we can prioritize what we want to spend our money on and allocate some of that to taking better care of your family and the earth.

We’re trying to think of ways to use less sun screen in the first place to help offset the cost. The kids will always have a rash-guard with long sleeves to minimize how much sunscreen they need. Hats to protect the face. Cover ups or one piece swimsuits instead of bikinis (not preaching here, they just cover a lot more surface area).

Again, it’s really just prioritizing where you spend your money. If I can buy random stuff I don’t need at Target but scoff at $20 for earth safe sunscreen, it just says more about what I prioritize than the price of the product.

reef safe sunscreen


I’m not going to put my name behind any specific brand yet as I’ve only used one. We recently went to Puerto Rico and used Raw Elements body sunscreen + tinted facial moisturizer. We liked it well enough- it’s definitely more oily feeling, and I think it did a great job. I’m also going to say that it went a LOT farther than I thought it would when I originally saw the tine! I’m going to put some highly recommended brands down below, but again- make sure to do your research!

*low waste package options available

Have fun in the sun!

I’m a summer and beach person. I really am. There’s no secret hope here to get people to go out in the sun less or to not use sunscreen (please use sunscreen). I would just love to help make people aware that what you put on your body not only affects you, but it affects the ocean and the nature around you. Be mindful, and be considerate!

If you’re headed on vacay soon and looking for other items to take to help your trip stay low waste, make sure to check out this post!

reef safe sunscreen
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