Woman pouring reef safe sunscreen in her hand on sandy beach
July 19, 2023

Sunkissed and Sustainable: Get Beach Ready with These Reef Safe and Biodegradable Sunscreens

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he best part of a beach getaway is the sunshine, but if you forget your sunscreen, it quickly becomes the worst. “Burnt to a crisp” is a look no one wants to serve on their holiday. That said, “killing coral reef with skincare” isn’t a headline any of us want to be associated with either. The reality is, however, that while sunscreen protects our skin, many common ingredients in it can harm the places and creatures we love most. 

In this article, we’ll look at why it’s worth picking up biodegradable sunscreen for your next beach trip, some of our favorite brands, and easy places to find them, including Walgreens, Amazon, and Target.

Table of  Contents

Why Using Reef Safe and Biodegradable Sunscreen Brands Matters

Marine biology ecosytem staghorn coral reef and colorful sea fish swim around in deep blue sea

Something that confuses many is whether biodegradable sunscreen is reef safe. The simple answer is yes! Biodegradable sunscreens are made from ingredients that can be broken down by living organisms, making them less harmful to the ecosystems, such as reefs, that they come into contact with. According to the National Ocean Service, these are some of the negative ways in which everyday SPF products can damage reef and marine activity:

  • Damage the immune systems of sea urchins.
  • Induce bleaching in corals.
  • Decrease fertility and reproduction in certain fish.
  • Accumulate in dolphin tissue and even be transferred to youngsters.

That’s why, whether you’re just taking a quick dip or going for a snorkel past a coral reef, it’s so important to use reef safe biodegradable sunscreen brands. They’re no less effective at sun protection but so much better for the health and safety of marine life.

Ingredients to Watch out For When Looking for Eco-Friendly, Biodegradable Sunscreen

While scientists have yet to agree on which sunscreen is the least harmful to marine life, there are some commonly agreed-upon ingredients to avoid wherever possible:

  • Octocrylene
  • Benzophenone-8 (OD-PABA)
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Benzophenone-1
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Nano-Titanium dioxide
  • Nano-Zinc oxide
  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone

Out of that list, the most important ingredients to watch out for are the last two, Octinoxate and Oxybenzone. In 2021, Hawaii State Legislature approved Bill 2571 which banned the sale of non-prescription sunscreens with these ingredients in an effort to encourage the use of more biodegradable, reef safe sunscreens.

7 of our Favorite Reef Safe and Biodegradable Sunscreen Brands

Whether you’re looking to buy biodegradable sunscreen for Mexico travels, or any other beachy destinations, we’ve got you fully protected and reef-safe with these sunscreen brands:

Avocado Zinc

Biodegradable and reef safe sunscreen by Avocado Zinc.

Formulated with all natural and allergen-free ingredients, though a little on the pricy side, this is a great reef safe, and biodegradable sunscreen go to.

Avocado Zinc sunscreen is not made with nano zinc oxide particles, and it contains nutrient rich ingredients that are great for nourishing the skin and have anti-aging properties as well. Unlike many natural sunscreen options we've tried, this sunscreen spreads and absorbs easily on the skin without blocking pores. It is also cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic, and allergen free.

Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen

Biodegradable and reef safe sunscreen by Sun Bum Brand in SPF 30.

This biodegradable sunscreen brand is widely available, often sold in bulk for more affordability, and is fully “Hawaii Act 104 Reef Compliant”. None of their US-sold sunscreens use Octinoxate or Oxybenzone.

However, the Original Sun Bum line contains the ingredient octocrylene which is considered harmful to marine life is not reef safe. This chemical is not FDA-approved, and is of a petrochemical nature. Instead we recommend the Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen options which are both a reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen option.

Banana Boat Mineral Protection

Biodegradable and reef safe sunscreen option by banana boat made with mineral formulation.

Unfortunately, not all the products from this brand are reef safe but their mineral sunscreens are all biodegradable and free from the ingredients that are considered harmful to marine life. We would however caution against their mineral sunscreens that come in aerosol form as they tend to have added chemicals that ought to be avoided. Rather stick with their classic, mineral sunscreen creams.

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Sunscreen

Hawaiian tropic brand reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen option.

Inspired by Hawaai and their beautiful oceans, all the biodegradable sunscreens at Hawaiian Tropic are free from Octinoxate and Oxybenzone. They’re also Skin Cancer Foundation approved which proves that you don’t have to compromise on skin protection.

After looking through all the ingredient lists of sunscreen lines by Hawaiian Tropic we found that most contained the ingredient octocrylene which as we shared earlier is a petrochemical that is not considered reef safe. We did however find that the Mineral options are in fact biodegradable and reef safe sunscreens that are free of the chemicals that are considered harmful to coral reefs. As an added bonus, they are also cruelty free, and vegan.

Supergoop! 100% Mineral Sunscreens

biodegradable and reef safe sunscreen called PLAY 100% Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50 by Supergoop!

This brand is unique in that it offers reef-safe sunscreen that won’t ruin make-up. Supergoop! has a full line-up of cruelty-free 100% mineral sunscreens that offer comprehensive protection from the sun and are formulated to work with whatever other cosmetics you have on.

Their biodegradable sunscreens known as Sheerscreen and Mattescreen that doubles as a primer and another that works as a setting powder to be used over make-up – great for touch-ups during the day. Supergoop! also offers SPFs specifically for eyes and lips and tinted products that help reduce the white cast that many mineral sunscreens struggle with. They make looking good and keeping the ocean clean easier than ever.

Solara Suncare 

A bottle of clean freak nutrient boosted body sunscreen by one of the biodegradable sunscreen brands Solara Suncare.

Solara Suncare has a few great biodegradable sunscreen options, but our favorite is their “Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Body Sunscreen”. The plant-based SPF comes in two variations: naturally scented and unscented, making it perfect for anyone with sensitive skin.

To add to the perks of this reef-safe sunscreen, it’s also EWG-verified to be free of harmful chemicals such as drying alcohols and artificial fragrances, and is boosted with extra skincare ingredients to help calm your skin after sun exposure. Their products are also cruelty-free and come in fully recyclable packaging.

Suntegrity Mineral Body Sunscreen

Two bottles of SPF 30 reef safe and biodegradable sunscreen by suntegrity.

There are so many notable eco-friendly qualities in Suntegrity’s mineral body sunscreen that we almost don’t know where to start. First off, this is one of the few biodegradable sunscreen brands that has a USDA-certified bio-based SPF. That certification means that 95% of the ingredients in their mineral sunscreen are renewable and biological.

It’s no wonder then that their mineral body sunscreen, which is also infused with antioxidants, has won multiple awards. The product comes in a tube made from eco-friendly sugarcane which further helps reduce any ocean harm. Suntegrity is a classic example of a biodegradable sunscreen that supports all your fun in the sun, without stealing the ocean’s glow.

Where to Buy Biodegradable Sunscreen 

There’s a common misconception that buying biodegradable sunscreen requires extra effort or visits to specialized eco-friendly stores. To make things as easy as possible for you while prepping for your next sandy, sustainable holiday, here’s an easy guide to shopping biodegradable sunscreen from everyday stores and websites:

Biodegradable Sunscreen at Walmart

Walmart makes it particularly easy to shop for biodegradable reef safe sunscreen by having a whole section of their website dedicated to it. Some of their options include Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic and a popular brand we haven’t had a chance to mention yet, Coppertone.

Biodegradable Sunscreen at Target

Target has sections on the website for mineral and clean sunscreens, both of which tend to be biodegradable and reef safe. They also stock one of our favorite biodegradable sunscreen brands, Sun Bum.

Biodegradable Sunscreen at Walgreens

Knowing where to buy biodegradable sunscreen can be as simple as popping down to your local Walgreens where you’ll find a huge array of options. Word of warning though: their in-house brand sunscreen is Oxybenzone free but it’s unclear if it fully meets reef safe guidelines. Beyond that, they sell biodegradable reef safe sunscreen from Aveeno, Neutrogena, as well as Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat.

Biodegradable Sunscreen on Amazon

The great thing about Amazon is that they tend to have some of the more niche, eco-friendly biodegradable sunscreen brands, including these 2023 NY Times favorites: Thrive Bodyshield and ThinkSport Sunscreen.

Do it For the Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphin, tursiops truncatus, Adult Leaping

Switching to eco-friendly, biodegradable sunscreen is easy, and it’s a sustainability step we can all take to help make dolphins, coral, and other marine life safer.

There’s so much magic to experience at the beach, why not help protect it? Next time you hit the waters, keep your sunscreen on and the chemicals out. It’s the least we can do.