The BEST Reef Safe Sunscreen [2024]

Short on time? We consider ThinkSport SPF50+ to be the best reef-safe sunscreen

Trying to find a sunscreen that is genuinely reef friendly is not that easy.

Since the term “reef safe” isn’t regulated by the FDA, the market is rife with sunscreens which are marketed as reef safe that are in fact anything but!

In this guide, I’ll present to you some of the best and truly reef friendly sunscreens, as well as how you can decipher those pesky deceptive labels on your own.

Here are these are the best reef safe sunscreens for 2024…

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreens [2024]

  1. Think Sport SPF50+ [Best: Overall]
  2. All Good Sport Sunscreen SPF30 [Best for face]
  3. CeraVe SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen[Best budget]
  4.  Badger Sport SPF40[Best: Minimal Ingredients]
  5. Think Sport SPF 50 For Kids – [Best for Kids]

The Best Reef Safe Sunscreens Reviewed

Thinksport SPF 50+ [Best Overall]

Specs

  • Key Ingredient: Non nano zinc oxide 20%
  • SPF 50
  • Water Resistant up to 80 mins

The Thinksport SPF50 sunscreen fits all of our specifications; it doesn’t contain any ingredients known to be harmful to our reefs, it has a high SPF, it’s water resistant, AND it’s also cheaper than the majority of its competitors.

Available as both a lotion or stick, Thinksport is a non nano zinc sunscreen and which contains 20% of this active ingredient (that’s plenty), and ThinkSport sunscreens are both rated highly by EWG and are a member of the safe sunscreen council

If you’re someone who spends most of their time when at the beach snorkeling and dipping in and out of the sea then you’ll need a sunscreen with good water resistance. Thinksport is water resistant up to 80 minutes – Meaning it stays on the skin rather than washing off in the sea.

The fragrance (which is quite fruity), is fairly strong. I personally like the smell of this sunscreen but it is a little off-putting for some.

Pros

  • Half the cost per ounce of many of its competitors (currently $3.50 per fl/oz)
  • Goes on well and feels good on the skin
  • Very good broad spectrum protection
  • Good water resistance

Cons

  • Slightly greasier feeling on the skin than the competition

All Good Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 [Best reef friendly sunscreen for face]

Specs

  • Key Ingredient: Non Nano Zinc Oxide (12%)
  • SPF 30

The All Good sunscreens are a bit pricey per fluid ounce compared to others, but if you’re the type of person who prefers to wear protective clothing and just use sunscreen on the bits that are showing like the face and neck, then this is a great option.

It’s non greasy formula is thin in comparison to a lot of mineral based sunscreen which can be very thick, and it also doesn’t leave a white cast like a lot of other mineral sunscreens do – making it the perfect sunscreen for application on the face!

It has a lightweight formula that is very moisturizing, containing; green tea, rosehip oil, buriti oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter. It’s doesn’t clog pores (non-comedogenic) and is a good option for those with sensitive skin.

It has a non nano mineral formula and is a member of the safe sunscreen council, so you can rest assured it’s truly “reef friendly”, and is has a water resistance of up to 80 minutes which is the maximum.

The All Good brand also have multiple options available in the forms of; lotion, stick or spray form. They also offer lip balms and zinc butters, formulations for children and a tinted version of this sunscreen.

Pros

  • Rubs in really well & feels good (non-greasy) on the skin
  • Doesn’t leave a distinctive white cast like most mineral sunscreens
  • Available in multiple different forms (stick, lotion, tinted version etc)
  • Water resistance up to 80 minutes

Cons

  • It’s quite expensive in comparison to our top pick, the ThinkSport

CeraVe SPF 50[Best budget reef safe sunscreen]

  • Key Ingredient: Titanium Dioxide 9% Zinc Oxide 7%
  • SPF 50

CeraVe are one of the cheapest and at $2.99 per fluid ounce represent excellent value for money in a, let’s face it, commonly very expensive market.

It’s designed for all skin types including those with sensitive skin so is both paraben and fragrance free (common irritants for people with sensitive skin).

A little bit of this lotion ends up going a long way – It comes out quite thick but once you begin to work it into the skin it thins out and ultimately rubs in very well by the end

It’s a mineral sunscreen with a combo of both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, with a high SPF and 80 minutes water resistance, but it does contain less of the key active ingredients than the other’s on our list.

[I’m a fan of CeraVe in general and use the CeraVe SPF 25 AM moisturizer as my daily moisturizer and I love it – It’s very nourishing and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy at all]

Pros

  • Rubs in really well (eventually)
  • One of the cheapest out there at only $2.99 per fluid ounce
  • Paraben & Fragrance free – Good for those with sensitive skin
  • Very moisturizing and doesn’t feel heavy/greasy

Cons

  • Contains less active key ingredients than the ThinkSport

Badger Sport sPF 40 – Best For Minimal Ingredients

  • Key Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 22.5%
  • SPF 40

Just four ingredients make up this reef safe sunscreen, which may make it the most “reef friendly” mineral sunscreens on our list.

Badger Sport are a member of the safe sunscreen council, have a score of 1 (the best) from the Environmental Working Group) AND are certified by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory – So you can purchase this sunscreen knowing that it is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to reef safe sunscreen lotion.

Another benefit to having such a minimal ingredient list, of course, is that those with sensitive skin should find that this sunscreen is gentle on the skin (98% of it’s ingredients being organic).

Plus, unlike most other sunscreens, the natural ingredients that make up this sunscreen are simple and well known – rather than unpronounceable chemicals you’ve never heard of! (sunflower oil, beeswax, and vitamin E are the three inactive ingredients besides the active ingredient, zinc oxide).

The lotion itself goes on well eventually but be prepared to work hard to rub it in as it’s quite thick! It doesn’t give you a ghostly white complexion like many mineral sunscreens do though and it also feels good on the skin and is slightly less greasy feeling than the Thinksport.

(Kids and baby sunscreen are also available from Badger Sport)

Pros

  • Only four Ingredients!
  • Sunscreen council member and HEL certified
  • Non greasy, feels good on the skin and doesn’t leave a white cast
  • Water Resistant up to 80 minutes

Cons

  • It’s thickness makes it a bit harder to rub in

Thinksport SPF 50 [Best For Kids]

  • Key Ingredient: non nano zinc oxide
  • SPF 50

Thinksport is my top choice for kids and babies for the same exact reasons I love their primary sunscreen.

It rubs in really well and feels good on the skin, it has a high SPF and broad spectrum uv protection, and it’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes (it’s priced very well too).

Naturally you’ll be wondering what the difference is between Thinksport’s primary lotion, vs the kids lotion, vs the babies lotion, and the answer is; none aside from the fragrance.

All three lotions consist of the same base formula, but they each have a different fragrance. So with that being said, unless you heavily prefer the smell of one over the other than I would advise simply purchasing whichever is cheapest at the time.

Pros

  • High SPF & good broad spectrum protection
  • Easy to apply/rub in
  • Water Resistant for up to 80 minutes
  • Excellent price point in comparison to most over sunscreens

Cons

  • Can be difficult to wash off

A Warning Regarding Reef Safe Sunscreen

The term “Reef Safe” isn’t legally defined or monitored. A LOT of sunscreens are marketed as being reef friendly even though they may contain many harmful chemicals.

This can unfortunately make shopping for reef safe sunscreen a bit of a minefield!

It becomes even more complicated when you bring in the fact that the EU and the US may have different ingredient lists on the same product/brand, due to the different regulations and ingredients available. [The FDA currently has 16 approved ingredients for sunscreen, whilst some other countries like England, have 27]

Here’s a real world example for you of the current minefield purchasing sunscreen is; This particular Sun Bum product being sold on Amazon is currently one of (if not the most) popular sunscreens for purchase on Amazon and is listed as ‘Reef Friendly’.

It calls itself reef friendly due to the fact that it doesn’t contain Oxybenzone or Octinoxate BUT what it does contain is the ingredient Octocrylene, which is an ingredient that has still been shown to be harmful and has in fact been banned in several places.

What Is ‘Reef Safe’ Sunscreen?

Reef safe sunscreens contain no known harmful chemicals, have a minimal amount of ingredients overall, yet still provide you with overall sun protection

Instead of using oxybenzone and octinoxate, and another other known harmful chemicals, reef safe sunscreen contains the much more eco-friendly non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients.

They are also paraben free, usually have far less chemicals in them, and many of them (though not all) also tend to be unscented in order to further minimise their ingredient list.

To help you out, here’s a clearly defined list of what you should avoid when purchasing your next sunscreen – Why not take a screenshot and use this as a reference guide:

non reef friendly ingredient list

How Does Sunscreen Damage Coral Reefs?

Several common ingredients used in sunscreen are known to be very damaging to coral reefs and, it is estimated that up to 14,000 TONS of sunscreen wash off into our coral reefs every year.

There common ingredients I listed above are often used in sunscreen have been shown to be very harmful and have been found to bleach and kill coral reefs even at low concentrations:

Used in 3500 of the most popular sunscreen products these substances can be absorbed into corals (and other organisms).

They disrupt the corals reproduction and ultimately lead to it’s bleaching. The destruction of these corals can  have a massive effect on the organisms and marine life that rely on it for shelter and food.

coral bleaching

Things To Consider When Purchasing Reef Safe Sunscreen

Here are the key points that you need to consider when purchasing reef friendly alternatives:

  • Lotion Vs Spray – Always go for lotions/creams as opposed to the spray on type of sunscreen. Spray on sunscreen tends to get everywhere (a lot of the time not even on your skin). Quite a lot of it will therefore end up in the sand and then inevitably, in the ocean.
  •  Simpler = Better– The less ingredients in your sunscreen the better so try and go for a formula with as few ingredients as possible.
  • None of the harmful ingredients we have listed like oxybenzone and octinoxate should be present
  • They should contain non nano versions of the active ingredient. [Nano particles are small enough that they can be absorbed by corals and may be harmful in large amounts].
  • The minimum SPF recommended to protect skin is 30.
  • Water Resistant – sun lotion will inevitably wash and rub off as you sweat or go in the water so it’s important to look for one with a high water resistance. This will minimise your lotion washing off into the ocean, and help it to stay where it’s needed – On your skin!

All of the sunscreens I’ve selected in my list fit the above specifications.

The Best Protection For You & Our Oceans

Making the switch to a reef friendly sunscreen is a great start when it comes to protecting ourselves and our reefs, but there further ways of protecting both that are even more effective.

Wearing UV protective clothing like t-shirts and rash guards for snorkeling are surefire ways of protecting your skin, and greatly minimising the use of sunscreen.

With a rash guard and rash leggings, you can confidently spend extended amounts of time in the sun knowing that you’re well protected, and that you’re doing everything you can to minimise the amount of suntan lotion washing off into the ocean.

As well as providing you with the best protection, it’s much more cost effective to wear additional clothing than it is to constantly reapply large amounts of sunscreen.

Conclusion

The ThinkSport sunscreen ticks all of the right boxes. It contains none of the known harmful ingredients, is easy to apply, and offers great protection all at a good price.

As an added plus the sunscreen also comes in a 6oz bottle as opposed to 3oz like many of its competitors.

Reapply regularly and combine this with wearing something like a rash guard for ultimate protection. 

Gia Halliday

Gia Halliday

Hey, my names Gia! My biggest passions are food, travel and basically anything to do with being in the water. Combine all of that with an addiction for buying gear and you end up with with this website!