Reef Safe Sunscreens

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

While Autumn is my favorite season, I can't resist a good pool or beach day during the Spring and Summer. I can't describe the feeling of peacefulness when I feel the cool water hitting my body while the sun warms my face. Unfortunately the peacefulness is short-lived when just a few hours later I end up looking like Mr. Krabs because I didn't apply enough sunscreen. Hence, the point of this post. Sunscreen is HELLA important because it's designed to product your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Too much exposure with little protection is not only linked to things like minor burns but also third degree burns and skin cancer. Similar to how important it is to use sunscreen, it's also super important to use ones that are reef safe.

Now Shelbi, what does it mean to be "reef safe?" I'm glad you asked! Similar to chemical pollutants in the air and land around us, the ocean is also chemically polluted as well. As reported by Marine Safe, as much as 82,000 different types of chemicals from personal care products are currently swimming around in our oceans and destroying our reefs. Sunscreen is one of the largest contributing factor to this chemical pollution. What about sunscreen makes it so dangerous and deadly to reefs though, Shelbi? Well, obviously the chemical components in the lotion. The two main culprits are oxybenzone and octinoxate. While these two chemicals are fantastic for absorbing the sun's harmful rays, they are also known to alter DNA and disrupt endocrine processes that can lead to serious deformities in reefs. In addition, they are also known to cause coral bleaching. Now what is coral bleaching? Coral has a symbiotic relationship with the algae that inhabit it; essentially these algae are responsible for nearly ALL of the energy the coral needs. But when coral bleaching is initiated, the coral releases the algae living in its tissues causing it to turn from that beautiful vibrant color to completely white.

The list of chemicals that are harmful to the environment in mainstream sunscreen is long. However, that doesn't mean you have to give up sunscreen! There are so many brands that have made big strides in making sustainable alternatives to sunscreen so you can go out there and continue to live your best life!

Zero Waste / Plastic Free

Here are the sunscreen brands that are either completely zero waste or come in plastic free packaging:

All Good

This sunscreen butter by All Good is a great zero waste alternative to mainstream sunscreen as it comes in a re-usable tin and is made with only SIX coral-reef safe ingredients. It's very, VERY water resistant! You will be very protected even on your most sweatiest days outside. It does require that you re-apply every 80 minutes though. All Good uses USDA certified organic ingredients, is a certified B-Corp member, a member of 1% for the Planet, and Leaping Bunny certified. All of their products are made in-house in the Morro Bay Community Center's kitchen which is also solar powered.

Raw Elements

While working as a lifeguard, brand founder Brian Guadagno witnessed how harmful sunscreen chemicals were to the environment. This inspired him to create his own line of reef-safe sunscreen. Raw Elements sunscreen comes with 30+ SPF and provides protection beyond 80 minutes. You can even apply it directly underwater; that's how safe it is! If you want it completely zero waste, check out the face stick which comes with biodegradable packaging or the reusable tin!


This sunscreen paste by Manda is one I've frequented in the past. It's SPF 50 and comes in the really cool and reusable packaging made from bamboo and tin. What really impresses me about Manda is the way it sits on your skin. Rather than traditional sunscreens that absorb into your skin, Manda leaves a visible layer on top, acting as a visual indicator of protection.

Balm! Baby

This one is perfect for those of you with children! While the brands I discuss in this post are all pretty much safe for anyone (unless you're allergic to the ingredients) this one is specifically made for children. It comes in a reusable glass jar and is SPF 30. You can apply to both the body and lips! It's also multi-functional in that it can also be used for diaper rash which is awesome for helping you streamline and decrease the amount of product you're packing for your beach or pool day.

Going Zero Waste DIY Sunscreen

If you're balling on a budget or just into DIY projects, definitely use this recipe as your guide! Kathryn's recipe is a mineral sunscreen which is considered one of the safest versions of sunscreen not to mention it is reef safe! It sits on the top layer of your skin rather than being absorbed. It also calls for natural ingredients that naturally provide SPF 30 protection!

Here's a list of some more zero waste/plastic free sunscreen products:

Meow Meow Tweet

EiR NYC Face Stick OR Surf Mud

AvaSol Compostable Tube

Sun Butter Sun Care (AU)

Not Zero Waste but Still Great

Here are the brands that are not completely zero waste and plastic free due to the packaging but they're still fantastic options:

Garden Goddess

Garden Goddess has a wide range of sunscreen products to meet the needs of yourself and your family. They even have a aerosol spray version when you need a quick spritz in between all of those fun activities! Garden Goddess sunscreen is biodegradable with natural plant-based and mineral ingredients only. You can even return the empty packaging back to the brand through TerraCycle!


Stream2Sea specializes in SPF 30 mineral sunscreen. It's made using natural ingredients and it's also gluten and wheat free! The sunscreen formula itself is biodegradable, and the packaging (which can be recycled through TerraCycle) is made from sugar cane resin. Stream2Sea is also a 1% for the Planet Member. Need it in bulk? Look no further!

All Good

If you were interested in All Good but wanted a lotion formula as opposed to a butter, they've got it! Similar to the butter, this is reef safe, lightweight, and non-greasy. It's perfect to use if you're going to be sweating a lot in the sun. This formula is also made using natural ingredients and is gluten-free. You can also recycle the packaging through TerraCycle!


Badger is a small, family-run, personal care company based out of New Hampshire. Their reef safe sunscreen is made using only 5 ingredients and is scent free, perfect for those with fragrance sensitivities! This sunscreen is SPF 35, is gluten free, and made using 94% organic ingredients.

Other Forms of Sun Protection

Sunscreen isn't the only item you can use to help protect you from sun-exposure damage. Here's a few other items that can help:

Stream2Sea Rash Guard

Sunscreen is only effective if you remember to put it on in the first place, and also remember to reapply. This rash guard by Stream2Sea offers an additional UBF 50+ sun protection by shielding your arms, chest, and torso from the sun's harmful rays. The fabric of this rash guard is made using repurposed nylon from fishing net materials. It's also very lightweight and dries quickly!

Sun Hat

Similar to the rest of your body, it's super important to protect your face and scalp from the sun's harmful rays! I highly recommend wearing a hat to provide this protection. Personally, I love a good straw hat! They give off that beach chic vibe.


You guessed it. Your eyes also need protection from the sun's harmful rays! Thankfully there are TONS of brands working hard to develop sunglasses that not only look good, but provide this protection while also using sustainable materials. Check out my blog post here on sustainable eyewear!

After Sun Protection

While it's important to protect your skin before hanging out in the sun, it's also important to protect your skin after. The sun can be quite damaging when exposed to it for long periods of time. It can cause premature wrinkling, sun burns, and even dryness. Here's some options to help protect your skin after sun exposure!

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a tried and true natural ingredient that has TONS of healing properties. It provides moisture to dry skin and feels A M A Z I N G when you've got a sun burn and need some cooling relief. There are many options of aloe vera treatment at your disposal. My favorite (and probably the cheapest, quickest, and most zero waste) is straight up buying an aloe vera leaf, cutting it open, and removing the gel. However, if you don't have access to aloe vera leaves or just want to avoid the work and sticky mess, check out this aloe vera gel by Badger.

Aloe vera is great and all but sometimes you want something thicker for dry skin and burned skin. That's perfectly okay! Here's a list of natural after-sun care lotions and sprays!

Plum Brilliance Lobster Butter Natural Sunburn Cream

Stream2Sea Nourishing After Sun Lotion

Goddess Garden After-Sun Aloe Spray

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