Invest in one of the best reef-safe and eco-friendly sunscreens and you can ensure you are protecting both the oceans and your skin while on board.
For sailors who spend their time on the water under the glare of the sun, keeping your skin safe from harmful UV rays is vital. But protecting the oceans is equally important. Choosing an eco-friendly, reef-safe sunscreen is one way to ensure you are doing both.
According to Karmagawa charity’s Save the Reef project, scientists have estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen are deposited into the oceans each year. And with many mainstream products containing ingredients that are damaging to the health of reefs and other marine life, the build-up of these chemicals can have a dramatic impact on ocean ecosystems.
As the United Nations Environment Programme has specified, coral reefs may only cover 0.2% of the seafloor, but they support at least 25% of all marine species – and approximately 14% of the world’s coral has already been lost since 2009. The US National Ocean Service details the most dangerous ingredients for coral reefs in sunscreen as;
– 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
– 3-Benzylidene camphor
Save the Reef has also urged consumers to watch out for Homosalate, Triclosan and any Parabens on ingredient lists which can damage reefs and marine life. It’s also been widely acknowledged that Zinc and Titanium oxides – the key active ingredients in sunscreen for protection against UVA and UVB rays – need to be specified as “non-nano” in order to be reef-safe.
While large-scale threats like overfishing and industrial-level pollution can seem like an overwhelming problem to the health of our oceans, a simple switch to a reef-safe sunscreen is an achievable step that every sailor can make to help protect the waters we love. Below, we round up our favourites.
8 of the best reef-safe sunscreens
Kokua Sun Care SPF 50 reef-safe natural zinc sunscreen
Our favourite tried and tested reef-safe sunscreen
Developed in Hawaii by a couple with a sailing background, Kōkua Sun Care sunscreen has been designed for sailors. Offering up to SPF 50 protection, these products are water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, while still comprising only reef-safe and vegan ingredients, mainly derived from local sources in Hawaii.
It won’t sting your eyes, feels non-stick to apply, doesn’t leave any visible white cast, and will also nourish your skin like a moisturiser. What’s more, it comes in eco-friendly, recyclable packaging.
While the 89ml/3oz tube can pass through security in your hand baggage, the smaller size of the product means it’ll run out more quickly and makes it more expensive per ml.
Its water-resistant nature can make it harder to wash off as well, but the company also makes a special exfoliating konjac sponge designed to help remove the product after a long day of wear in the sun.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.
Stream2Sea every day mineral sunscreen
Floridian-made Stream2Sea products were developed by a scuba diver. They have passed the Protect Land + Sea certification, proving them not only reef-safe but also non-harmful to humans, fish and coral larvae.
Stream2Sea’s Every Day Mineral Sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is unique for incorporating the brand’s signature “WetBoost Technology” that actually enhances the level of sun protection by up to 50% on exposure to water, compared to most other sunscreens that degrade on contact with water.
This rigorously-tested product is nonetheless sheer to put on and packed with antioxidant-rich, natural ingredients like wakame seaweed, turmeric root, green tea and olive leaf.
The sunscreen comes in eco-conscious packaging, made from fully-recyclable sugar cane resin tubes and recycled milk bottles. The only downside is that the highest protection offered by Stream2Sea products is SPF45, and users have noted that it leaves white cast and can be hard to rub off.
MANDA organic mineral sunscreen
MANDA products were developed by surfers, and designed for long-term wear outdoors and in the water. Users have testified to the Sun Creme’s water resistance, although the brand doesn’t specify how long it can be worn in water.
This product is unique for using the ingredient thanaka, a natural skin-protectant from a tree native to Myanmar that offers regenerative, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-acne, and anti-ageing properties.
Whether you’re buying it in a tube or a tub, the packaging is eco-friendly, made from 100% recyclable sugar cane polyethylene. Users have found it difficult to apply though, as the formula – like coconut oil – can sometimes be too firm, and needs to be warmed up for a few minutes beforehand to ensure a smoother application.
Badger company, clear zinc mineral sport sunscreen SPF 40
Just four organic ingredients make up Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen; zinc, sunflower oil, beeswax and sunflower vitamin E. The result is a no-nonsense, unscented and 80-minute, water-resistant sunscreen with an added level of moisture thanks to the vitamin E.
The finishing touch is the packaging – an eco-friendly, recyclable and reusable tin. Users have mentioned white cast and possible clothing stains as drawbacks, and the highest protection Badger provides is only SPF 40.
Suntegrity milky mineral sun serum spray, broad spectrum SPF 50
Suntegrity produces a number of different reef-safe sunscreens for the body, face and makeup application, but the Milky Mineral Sun Serum Spray offers the highest protection (SPF 50) from the brand’s range.
It comes in a fully-recyclable, aluminium spray bottle, which helps with smoother application, and is branded as vegan and cruelty-free. Another benefit is the addition of skin-nourishing anti-oxidations like grape seed and karanja oil as well as mango and papaya extracts.
But while users have commended the lightweight feel, they have noted that it’s on the more expensive side – at $48 for 100ml – and most importantly, it’s not classified as waterproof, so take care when you chose to wear it.
Raw Love mineral sunscreen SPF 35
In January 2021, Hawaii became the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, so it’s not surprising that the islands have produced a number of reef-safe sunscreen brands.
Raw Love is another Hawaiian-made product developed by Jenna Davis, who went to maritime school and worked aboard yachts prior to launching the product. Her experience of life at sea, studying marine biology and working in aquariums informed the composition of Raw Love sunscreen, which is water-resistant and comes in a recyclable, reusable tin.
Essential oils like lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus combined with vitamin E, jojoba and carrot seed offer extra nourishment for the skin, with all ingredients FDA-approved. However, protection is only offered up to SPF 35, and the amount of time this can be used in the water is unclear.
Mama KULEANA reef-safe sunscreen
Another reef-safe sunscreen from Hawaii, Mama KULEANA is manufactured on Maui island. The brand uses organic and wild-harvested ingredients including essential oils, like frankincense and carrot, for added protection to the skin. It is water- and sweat-resistant – but for only 40 minutes, which is less than some other brands, plus protection is only up to SPF 30.
That being said, it qualifies as cruelty-free and comes in a 100% plastic-free, wood-based “bio jar” package, which is fully compostable. But, that jar is small at just 2oz, with one boat captain noting that one only lasted about five days while working on board in The Bahamas.
Ethical Zinc natural clear zinc mineral sport sunscreen
Ethical Zinc is manufactured in an Australian site powered by renewable solar energy and incorporates recyclable packaging and carbon neutral shipping for a fully eco-friendly product.
This SPF 50 sunscreen is labelled as water-resistant for an impressive four hours duration, and all of the reef-safe ingredients are also preservative- and cruelty-free, with vitamin E, vanilla, castor and coconut oil added to moisturise the skin. Users have noted that this sunscreen feels oily, and that the bottle is small at only 100g, however.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.