The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Scuba Divers

Reef Safe Sunscreen for Scuba Diving

We all know how important it is to wear sunscreen to protect our skin, but have you ever wondered if by smothering yourself in sunscreen before each dive, that you would be (unintentionally of course), harming the marine life around you?

It’s true, the use of some sunscreens are becoming a serious and increasingly clear threat to coral reefs, as Divers Alert Network (DAN) explains in this article on sunscreen pollution. We have pulled together information from around the internet and researched the common questions asked about reef safe sunscreen, and which are the best sunscreen for scuba divers. As always welcome comments and suggestions from readers.

Does Sunscreen Damage Reefs?

So, does using sunscreen damage coral reefs? The fact is some of them do. Recent research shows that a chemical in sunscreen may be contributing to the destruction of coral reefs around the world, as swimmers who are trying to protect their skin venture near reefs.

Some compounds in many sunscreens can actually harm the coral on our reefs. Some research shows when testing the effects of sunscreen on corals that the chemicals from these sunscreens can awaken coral viruses causing them to become sick and then expel their life-giving algae. Without this particular algae, the coral bleaches (turns white) and then in most cases it dies.

QUOTE* According to the U.S. National Park Service, it is estimated that currently, somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reef areas around the world each year.

How to Protect Yourself and the Reefs

So how are we supposed to protect ourselves from the sun, but not damage the coral reefs that surround us? Be reef friendly. As a visitor to the park and the coral reefs, you can reduce the risk of harming coral by taking a more “reef friendly” approach when choosing and applying sun protection.

Here are some of the things that you can do;

  1. Read the label. Remember, just because a product is advertised as “reef safe” it doesn’t mean that it is. No sunscreen has been proven to be completely “reef friendly” so it’s important to check the ingredients of the product. Avoid reef damaging substances such as oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor. These chemicals have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels.
  2. Apply your sunscreen at least 10 – 15 minutes before entering the water. This will allow more time for it to absorb into your skin. Another good tip when applying sunscreen is to limit the areas where the sunscreen is applied. You are able to reduce sunscreen in the water by almost 90% buy just applying it to the neck, feet, and backs of your hands.
  3. Cover up! You can also protect yourself from the sun by covering up your skin. Clothes have evolved tremendously over the past years and there is a range of sun clothes designed to reduce UV exposure.

Protect yourself and protect the reef by following the advice from NOAA’s guide on the impacts of sunscreens on our coral reefs.

10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreens for Scuba Diving

So here we are. Sunscreen is often enough, essential for most scuba divers. However, not all sunblock is made from the same ingredients. Some sunscreens contain an ingredient that is destroying coral reefs around the world, but we hope to educate you on this with our list of the best sunscreens for scuba divers.

The evidence of this chemical damaging our coral reefs is so strong that Hawaii Gov. David Ige, signed the first bill in the country that will ban sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs back in July 2018.

So what is the primary chemical culprit in sunscreens? Oxybenzone is the primary chemical culprit. This chemical is an ingredient used in many popular sunscreens by Neutrogena, Banana Boat, and Coppertone to name just a few.

One drop of sunscreen in 3.9 million gallons / 15 million liters of water is all it takes to damage a reef – PADI

Remember, it is still equally important to choose a sunscreen that is safe for your own health too. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles an annual list of top sunscreen choices, based on efficacy and toxicity, so you can easily pick a sunscreen which suits you best. To help you in finding the best reef safe sunscreen for scuba divers we have compiled the below list of 10 different options.

1. Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen, SPF 30

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SunBum Reef Friendly sunscreen

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This reef friendly sunscreen is perfect for everyday use by both adults and children, and even those with sensitive skin. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes providing great protection for all of that water time! It has a broad spectrum of UVA / UVB Protection and excludes ingredients that clog pores or causes common allergies – Non-comedogenic, Oxybenzone Octinoxate Free, ParParaben-Freeruelty-Free, Gluten Free, PABA free & Oil Free. It’s hypoallergenic & made with reef friendly, vegan ingredients that are designed to protect against UVA rays, prevent premature aging, and moisturize skin. What’s more is that Sun Bum follows the recommendations & guidelines set by the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) and the American Cancer Society. All of Sun Bum’s Original line of sunscreens have been tested, approved, and recommended by the SCF. A great choice of reef safe sunscreen!

2. Waxhead Vanilla Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30

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Waxhead sunscreen stick

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This reef-safe sunscreen comes in a different way, in a stick! Although it takes a little more effort to spread, a little bit goes a long way! Once applied it stays on in extreme conditions and works like no other sunscreen. It has true UVA/UVB protection against sunburn AND deep tissue damage. It’s top-rated by EWG in safety and best beach and sport sunscreen making it a perfect fit for us scuba divers! This sunscreen is a friend of the reef and approved for use in Hawaii. It’s made with only certified organic and mineral ingredients making it an ocean safe sunscreen! Because of its stick form, it won’t run or get into your eyes and is easily applied to only the areas you need it.

3. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30

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Reef friendly sunscreen

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One of the favorites and most popular sensitive sunscreens around – the Blue Lizard Australian sunscreen. This sunscreen has been formulated with dermatologists to protect sensitive skin from the sun, meaning it contains no skin-irritating fragrances or parabens. However, this sunscreen is only water resistant for 40 minutes and requires more applications than the others. Having said that it’s still a great pick as a reef safe sunscreen as it contains a broad spectrum SPF 30+ protection with 10% Zinc Oxide and 5% Titanium Dioxide.

4. Stream2Sea Sunscreen, SPF 30

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Stream2Sea is a tested and proven reef safe, biodegradable sunscreen with broad spectrum UVA and UVB sun protection, perfect sunscreen for scuba divers! It comes with a powerful antioxidant blend of organic Green Tea, Tulsi, Wakame and Olive Leaf. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes and leaves you with non-greasy, moisturized skin. Rub it in well and feel good knowing you are choosing to do better for your body and the environment!

5. TotLogic Safe Sunscreen, SPF 30

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Totlogic Sunscreen

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This hypoallergenic sensitive skin formula is a 20% natural zinc oxide mineral sunscreen with broad spectrum UVA and UVB sun protection, and ideal for both face and body. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes and infused with white tea, jojoba, hyaluronic acid, arnica, chamomile, and lavender. Because it contains no harsh ingredients, it’s rated one of the number ones on EWG and is an excellent choice of sunscreen for scuba diving. This sunscreen is loved by people of all ages, also perfect for everyday year round use. It is also a popular kid’s safe sunscreen and is suitable for babies over 6 months.

6. BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30

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Burnout Sunscreen

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Burnout Ocean Tested SPF 30 Physical Sunscreen is made for athletes pushing the limits. This reef safe sunscreen is formulated with 20% Zinc Oxide to provide UVA and UVB broad-spectrum protection. It’s very water-resistant and will not run into eyes – making it perfect sunscreen for us scuba divers! Not only is this sunscreen biodegradable and ocean-safe, it’s chemical-free, paraben-free, petroleum-free and PABA-free. Enriched with Virgin Hemp Seed Oil, Aloe Vera, and Antioxidant Vitamins to soothe and rejuvenate sun-damaged skin all the while moisturizing your skin too!

7. Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen SPF 34

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Beyond Coastal

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This Oxybenzone Free, Paraben Free, Oil Free (Non-comedogenic) sunscreen provides great protection from the sun and helps protect our reefs at the same time. It gives you 80 minutes of water resistance and a broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection which stops 97% of UVB rays. This reef safe sunscreen helps to nourish your skin with its green tea extract, yerba mate, and B5 pantheon ingredients. An all-around great sunscreen for scuba divers that is gluten-free, cruelty-free and Fragrance-Free.

8. All Terrain AquaSport, SPF 30

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Reef safe sunscreen

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All Terrain’s “Improved Formula” AquaSport SPF30 Sunscreen Lotion is super smooth to apply, Dimethicone-free & doesn’t leave white residue on the skin. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes which makes it a great choice for athletes & anyone who spends time in the water. Perfect sunscreen for scuba diving! It’s made with reef friendly ingredients and is Oxybenzone-free, paraben-free, fragrance-free, therefore great for those with sensitive skin! By using “reef-safe” biodegradable ingredients, AquaSport was awarded “Editor’s Pick” by Sport Diver Magazine. All Terrain is a certified cruelty-free company, using natural, biodegradable ingredients and packaging made from recycled, recyclable and/or biodegradable material.

9. MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield Clear Spray, SPF 30

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This Zinc-based, continuous spray goes on quickly and evenly for up to 80 minutes of water-resistant UVA and UVB full-spectrum sun protection. It absorbs quickly allowing you to wait less time before getting into the water! The formula of this product contains Linoleic Oil-rich Safflower Seed Oil to offer anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and healing support, and Bentonite to absorb excess oil and impurities from pores. It’s vegan and reef friendly and also biodegradable; made without GMO, Gluten, Parabens, Petroleum, Phthalates, Silicones, Sulfates, Ureas, Artificial Fragrances, and Artificial Colors. A great sunscreen for scuba diving!

10. Badger Sunscreen and Face Stick, SPF 35

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Badger Sunscreen

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The Badger sunscreen range is a perfect choice of reef safe sunscreen for scuba divers. And this one, in particular, comes as a combo pack with a face stick all for a great price! The unscented sunscreen and face stick will keep your family protected from harmful UVA-UVB rays while in the water and at the beach! It contains a high-quality pharmaceutical grade zinc oxide recommended for use on sensitive skin. The zinc oxide has an average particle size of 200nm and is coated with a safe silicone derivative.

4 Comments to “ The Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Scuba Divers”

  1. Linda smyth says :Reply

    I use BurnOut Ocean as my reef safe sunscreen, it protects my skin and doesn’t damage the coral reefs!

  2. Daniel Hewitt says :Reply

    I have been to dive centers where they recommend these products, in order to help protect the reefs. I personally use Sun Bum reef safe sunscreen.

  3. Abby Garcia says :Reply

    Wow, I had no idea that sunscreen could damage coral reefs in this way. 🙁

  4. Michelle Downs says :Reply

    Reef safe sunscreen is essential for scuba divers! I am going to share this list for others to see too, thanks for the info.

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