Last Updated on December 18, 2022 by Janine
Looking for the best biodegradable sunscreen brands to protect your skin on your next beach vacation? Below we’ll unpack the ingredients to watch for and recommend a collection of excellent reef-safe sunscreens you can trust.
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Finding the best environmentally friendly sunscreen can be a challenge, to say the least. You want something that is going to work without having to reapply every ten minutes and one that doesn’t feel like rubbing grease into your skin.
There are also lots of chemicals in these tubes and cans that you have to be aware of. The chemicals found in many popular sunscreen brands are harmful to the sensitive environments that surround the beloved beach towns in Mexico.
In fact, in some parts of Mexico, such as the Riviera Maya, your tour guide may request that you refrain from applying sunscreen in order to protect the local ecosystems. Mexican eco-parks like Xel Ha and XCARET require that guests use only reef-friendly sun protection products.
After all, thousands of visitors shedding residue from normal sunscreens into Mexico’s cenotes or coral reefs each day make a massive impact on the environment and marine life.
In fact, according to a 2020 study, experts expect over 4,000 tons of sunscreen chemicals to be shed in Mexico’s Riviera Maya between 2007 and 2025, causing significant contamination of the area’s delicate ecosystems. Over 6000 tons of sunscreen wash into the ocean each year.
This is why it is so important that we all do our part and look for reef-safe sunscreen. That way, you can protect your skin and the nature you so admire.
Looking for additional tips on packing for Mexico? These posts will help:
It may be tough to know what to look for, though, if you’re used to walking into the store and buying whatever is on the shelf.
I’ve done a lot of research on the best reef-safe sunscreens, and I’m so excited to share it with you!
We can all do our part to keep Mexico’s natural environments safe for the next generations. The last thing we want is for our sun protection efforts to damage the local environment.
What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?
Since the “reef safe” designation isn’t yet regulated by a government agency, it can be a little difficult to determine exactly what reef safe means. Usually, it means that the sunscreen does not contain the two chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.
These two chemicals are the most widely studied and have been found to cause coral bleaching. This is where coral reefs will turn white and become more susceptible to disease. In some parts of the world, there are even sunscreen bans in place to prevent retailers from selling products containing oxybenzone or octinoxate.
These ingredients (along with others) that are commonly found in non-biodegradable sunscreens have also been flagged by the FDA for being worrisome. Oxybenzone, in particular, has been shown to be absorbed through the skin and detected in human blood and breast milk.
This raises concerns over whether the use of sunscreens containing this ingredient is safe for women. Oxybenzone is often used as one of the main ingredients in chemical sunscreens because it is highly effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays.
There are still many chemical components in sunscreen that have not been studied, though, so one way to be very environmentally friendly (and health-conscious) is to wear more UPF-rated clothing, such as rash guards or sun shirts. Protective clothing cuts way down on the total amount of sunscreen that you have to use and saves you the hassle of having to reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Since you probably can’t go without sunscreen entirely, especially when visiting beach-oriented destinations like Playa del Carmen, Cancun, or Puerto Vallarta, using a biodegradable, mineral-based sunscreen is your best bet.
How to Tell if a Sunscreen is Reef Safe?
To spot an environmentally friendly sunscreen, there are a few things you can look for on the ingredients list beyond the “reef safe” label.
- Red flag ingredients – Take a look at the ingredient list and make sure oxybenzone and octinoxate are not on it. They are the ones proven to cause coral bleaching. A few other ingredients to avoid are octocrylene, homosalate, and triclosan.
- Mineral-based sunscreens – Mineral-based sunscreens have not been linked to coral bleaching and are thought to be better for the environment. Look for ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
- “Non-nano” indication – If something is “non-nano,” that means it is larger than 100 nanometers in size. This makes it harder for the particles to pass through or be ingested by the coral.
- Labels – This isn’t the best way to verify since the sunscreen labels aren’t regulated, but now you know how to verify that the label is correct. Look for sunscreens labeled as “reef safe” or “biodegradable.”
Related Reading: How to Make the Most of Your Sunscreen
The Best Environmentally Friendly Sunscreens
After searching for the best sunscreen to use for myself, here are my favorite biodegradable sunscreen brands I’ve found. Many of these brands produce biodegradable sunscreen as part of their larger goal to be more environmentally friendly and to protect the ocean.
1. Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen
This face and body sunscreen from Raw Elements comes in a convenient, packable tin. In my opinion, this is the best sunscreen for everyday use.
The active ingredient here is zinc oxide, and you’ll recognize all the other items on the ingredient list. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and the packaging is recyclable. This doubles as a daily moisturizer and is perfect for dry skin.
This reef-safe sunscreen is thick and creamy and takes a bit of time to apply to your whole body. However, if you take your time putting it on, then it truly works, and you shouldn’t burn. Make sure to reapply if you’re staying in the sun for long periods of time or have sensitive skin, though.
Pros: Works well for all skin types, stays on skin well Cons: expensive
2. All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen
Another non-nano zinc oxide-based formula, this sunblock by All Good is thinner than Raw Elements and should also be moisture-resistant for 80 minutes. Many people have found that it works better if you moisturize your skin before applying.
This one does require reapplying much more than the 80-minute recommendation and can leave a white tint on your skin after applying. Like most reef-safe sunscreens, it works better on some skin types than others so be vigilant when wearing it.
Pros: Formula is non-greasy, easy to apply. Cons: does not work well on some skin types
3. Badger Clear Zinc Oxide SPF 35 Sunscreen
Not only is this an environmentally friendly sunscreen brand, but it’s also a woman and family-owned company. This Badger sunscreen starts out white but rubs in clear, so you don’t have that annoying residue.
It contains 98% certified organic ingredients. This formula also comes in a face stick, so you can easily apply it to your face.
Pros: rubs in clear, lightweight Cons: does not stay on well in water
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4. Soleil Organic Sheer Sunscreen Mist SPF 50
Spray-on sunscreens are typically the worst type of sunscreen for the environment, but this one by Soleil Organic does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate! Since it is a spray, it’s lightweight and easy to apply. You can wear it in the water for up to 80 minutes, but you should apply it at least 20 minutes before you go outside.
They have also added a few natural ingredients that are good for your skin and reduce sun damage. The main complaint people have is about the strong smell. The lightweight formula may make this one of the best options for sensitive skin.
Pros: lightweight, easy to apply Cons: must reapply often, has a strong smell
5. Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
This lotion is one of the top-rated reef-safe sunscreens from Outside Magazine so you know it works pretty well. Like most of the others, this one is a mineral sunscreen.
Many people love this one because it is light enough for everyday use.
One thing that’s neat about this sunscreen is that they source 7 of the ingredients from Hawaii. It is great for use in the water but will rub on white if you use too much. A few small dabs all over your body will be enough to rub in.
Pros: moisture-resistant, most people didn’t burn Cons: too much will rub on white
6. Thinksport SPF 50
This Thinksport sunblock is a mineral sunscreen, and it’s free of all biologically harmful chemicals.
This is one of the most popular brands of reef-safe sun protection as it’s gotten many awards from popular magazines and was one of the first sunscreens to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care requirements.
You’ll want to apply this sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go out and don’t rub it in too thin. People with darker skin tones found that it did leave a white residue.
Pros: very water-resistant, cheaper option Cons: stays white for some
7. Hello Bello SPF 50 Sunscreen Mineral Lotion
This sunscreen is from Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s line of family products. While it was developed for kids, this is great for anyone with sensitive skin. It is hypoallergenic, and they list out every single ingredient on their site with a description of what it is, so they are incredibly transparent.
While it is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, they recommend reapplying every 40 minutes if you are playing in the water. This non-greasy formula is another one that works great as a general moisturizer.
Pros: hypoallergenic, non-greasy. Cons: not very water-resistant
The Top Biodegradable Sunscreens
Obviously, there are benefits and downfalls to each of these sunscreens. The best sunscreen for you will also totally depend on your skin type. It’s good to try out a few so that you find one that works the best for your body.
Before you know how a particular sunscreen works with your body, be sure to reapply more often than you think you need! No one enjoys walking around like a lobster for half of their vacation.