If you don’t want to read through the whole article and just want our recommendations, here they are:
Best Biodegradable Sunscreen
- Kokua Hawaiian Reef Safe Natural Zinc Sunscreen – Editor’s Choice
- Beauty by Earth Sunscreen
- Thinksport Safe Sunscreen
- Goddess Garden Sport – Best Budget
- Raw Elements Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen
- All Good Organic Sunscreen Butter – Top Pick with minimal ingredients
- Badger Sport Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream
- Suntegrity Skincare Natural Mineral Sunscreen – Top Pick for Vegan and Cruelty Free
- Love Sun Body 100% Natural Mineral Sunscreen
- Christina Moss Naturals Sunscreen
What is Biodegradable Sunscreen?
Simply put, biodegradable sunscreen contain environmentally safe yet necessary ingredients to keep your skin safe from the sun but doesn’t have the harmful chemicals that will affect aquatic life. These sunscreens will breakdown naturally in the environment without causing any harm to the ecosystem whatsoever.
A quick way to identify if the sunscreen that you are using is toxic to the environment is to look on the back label for certain ingredients (even though it may say ‘reef safe’).
Some include the previously mentioned oxybenzone, which is especially harmful to coral reefs, as well as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, and octocrylene, to name a few. We will get into a more detailed list further on.
What Kind of Damage Does Non Reef-Safe Sunscreens Do?
While we primarily think of the effects non reef-safe sunscreens have on corals and the organism that inhabit them along with other marine wildlife, they can be pretty harmful on us as well.
There is ongoing research currently probing the effects non reef-safe sunscreen has on humans.
Research suggests that with continuous use over time, these products absorb into the skin and cause health related problems. Some studies have found detectable levels of oxybenzone in human blood and breast milk. Also, animal studies have even raised concerns that it could interfere with hormonal function, particularly that of estrogen.
More thorough reviews were done on the implications faced by pregnant women, with findings suggesting that daily absorption of oxybenzone increases the risk of a rare birth defect called Hirschsprug’s disease (HSCR).
Children diagnosed with this disorder are characterized by the absence of particular nerve cells called ganglions that are situated in a section of the bowel, this prevents stool from passing through the intestine normally.
On another hand, conclusive results have shown that the impact non reef-safe sunscreen has on marine wild life is more immediate and deadly.
With an estimated 6000 tons of sunscreen being released into the ocean by divers, snorkelers and leisure swimmers every year, coral reefs are exposed to oxybenzone and octinoxate in significantly detrimental amounts.
The effects of these chemicals have been linked to causing corals to exhibit signs of distress, DNA damage, growth deceleration, skeleton abnormalities, and coral bleaching – a condition that leaves coral vulnerable to infection and prevents it from getting the nutrients it needs to survive.
In addition, reports found that octocrylene, another popular sunscreen ingredient, possibly resulted in poor brain and liver development in the zebra fish specifically.
That chemical, along with oxybenzone and octinoxate, has been found at detectable levels in various fish species not limited to sea urchins and the shellfish family worldwide.
Why Do Sunscreens Damage Coral Reefs?
Sunscreen damages the coral reef by way of the chemical ingredients contained within them.
These toxic chemicals release into the ocean each time someone who is wearing sunscreen lotion takes a swim or submerges themselves in the water.
These chemicals eventually find their way to the reefs, poisoning and destroying them in more ways than you can imagine.
The toxic chemicals in sunscreens eventually accumulate in the tissue of coral reefs causing death of marine organisms and species.
Specific circumstances caused by sunscreen contamination are:
- Pmpaired growth and photosynthesis of green algae
- Induced defect in young mussels
- Damage of the immune and reproductive system and deformation of young sea urchins
- Decreased fertility and reproduction of many fish species
- The development of female characteristics in male fish.
Harsh chemicals from sunscreen also accumulate in the tissue of dolphins and most times genetically transfer to their young.
What Ingredients Should I Watch Out for?
The chemicals in sunscreen deemed unsafe, flagged for use and that are indeed harmful to coral reefs and other marine wildlife include:
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
- 3-benzylidene camphor
- nano-titanium dioxide
- nano-zinc oxide.
In addition to these, others that are recognized by institutions like Haereticus Environmental laboratory (HEL), a conservationist of wild life and the ecosystem, are:
- Ppara-aminobenzoic acid (paba)
- Methyl paraben
- Ethyl paraben
- Propyl paraben
- Butyl paraben
- Benzyl paraben.
Nowadays you will see labels describing ingredients as nano and non-nano elements.
The most popular are zinc oxide as well as titanium oxide.
Both of these come in nano and non-nano forms.
These are made of the same chemical but formulated differently to optimize their SPF characteristics and absorption ability.
The term nano is derived from the unit of measurement nanometer, which is used to determine the size of the particles within these elements.
Nano sized particles are as small as they get when it comes on to sunscreen. Think of a strand of hair. A nanometer is 1000 times smaller than the thickness of that strand.
In a nutshell, nano absorbs better than non-nano but there is a lot of buzz out there as to whether this is a good thing for your skin. This results in its residency on the flagged list of ingredients mentioned earlier.
While non-nano, with the larger particles, tend to sit on the surface of your skin and is characterized by the white opaque film it leaves behind, which also facilitates better shielding from the sun.
On the topic of which is a better biodegradable option, nano sized particles tend to find their way seamlessly to the seabed and corals. They are also easily digestible by small marine sea creatures, which eventually consumes the chemical and become infected.
A terminal cycle develops where these fish later become food for larger sea creatures that in-turn gets poisoned as well.
If you are consious of the effect your sunscreen has on marine life then Non-nano compunds are the only answer.
These concerns about nano and non-nano ingredients have been a recent break through in the sunscreen industry and as such are popping up on labels everywhere.
However, many manufactures have used the term loosely in efforts of trying to keep up with modern science, so beware.
Best Biodegradable Sunscreen
Kokua Hawaiian Reef Safe Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50
Trendsetters in the ban on non-biodegradable sunscreen use, Hawaii seems to have the secret for the best lotions to use for a day at the beach. This Kokua Hawaiian reef safe sunscreen is one of the best you can find as it provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection of SPF 50 with 25% non-nano zinc oxide, which by the way is among the highest percentage on the market.
This gives you up to 80 minutes of safe sunbathing or down time in the sun and is also quite water and sweat resistant/waterproof. Don’t worry about that white toothpaste look after applying, this sunscreen rubs in clear, it just takes a little more rubbing action to do so. You don’t need to use a lot either, squeeze a dime-sized dollop into your palm and rub the solution deeply into your skin after which you will find that there is no white, overly greasy or sticky residue left behind.
This Kokua Hawaiian sunscreen is also a terrific moisturizing lotion; it is made with 23 potent antioxidant ingredients, 7 of which are Hawaiian grown and possesses neutralizing free radicals. Included in its formula are KonaRed Hawaiian coffee fruit extract, Hawaiian spirulina, kukui nut oil, macadamia nut oil, plumeria extract, organic noni juice, and noni honey. These make for a nicely textured lotion with a lovely fragrance.
There is no oxybenzone or octinoxate or any of the 30+ known marine toxic ingredients, harsh preservatives or artificial fragrances.
Beauty by Earth Sunscreen SPF 25
Another terrific option is Beauty by Earth; it is perhaps one of the most delicate sunscreens to use on the skin without worry. So it’s great on kids as well as sensitive skin users, however, you should always do a patch test before complete full body coverage.
This lotion has a non-nano formulated filter that carefully crafts an impenetrable layer of protection on the top of your skin, that which is represented by a white tinted solution. So in addition to the SPF 25 that it offers, you get doubled protection from the sun. The lotion is quite water resistant which is especially necessary with eco-friendly sunscreen as this ensures that less of the lotion washes off into the seawater.
Beauty by Earth is specifically prepared with environmentally, reef-safe ingredients and those that enhance its use and feel on your skin. With additives like aloe vera, coconut oil, castor oil, and shea butter, your skin is left feeling nourished, and hydrated.
The Cons: Not many people are fond of the white lotion look, neither am I to be honest. But knowing that it serves a positive purpose in protecting the environment and myself is what’s important. The label says up to 80 minutes in the sun, I would suggest less. This lotion will provide about 40 minutes of sunburn-free tanning or outdoor time. Also, after extended time wearing this sunscreen, you may experience a bit of difficulty washing it off.
Thinksport Safe Sunscreen (SPF 50+)
The very popular Thinksport has the badge of approval from many conservationists and cosmetologist brands including Whole Foods Premium Care, Men’s Health, Allure, Martha Stewart, Whole Living, FitPregnancy, Women’s Running to name a few.
It widely appeals to sports enthusiasts for the extended time it gives you in the sun as well and its waterproofing abilities. Thinksport has SPF 50+ with broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB, provides up to 80 minutes of safe sun exposure and the highest water resistance allowed by the FDA.
It is reef-friendly and highly biodegradable, which means it doesn’t contain any of the known harmful chemicals to compromise the safety of marine life.
What you can depend on is fortified sunscreen formula infused with aloe leaf juice, pine wood resin, castor oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil, white currant with vitamin C and vitamin E.
The lotion applies smoothly and absorbs easily giving your skin a very nourished and supple feel. It also has an appealing scent that is light and citrusy.
The Cons: This is not an all-natural sunscreen; there are ingredients that may cause skin allergy, so beware. For the best sun blocking protection, you will have to cover the lotion a little heavier than usual, this may feel icky on your skin as well cause you to run through a bottle sooner than you would like.
Best Budget Buy
Goddess Garden Sport SPF 50
This sunscreen gives you the best value for your money; at first glance it may not be the cheapest on the market, but you get 6oz rather than the usual 3oz. Compared to the cost of some of the other options out there it is a bargain.
Goddess Garden is somewhat water resistant, offers SPF 50, broad-spectrum protection from UVA/UVB and filled with skin loving ingredients.
The lotion has a nice texture which applies smooth and easily. It rubs in clear even though it is white in color — just massage the solution deeply and the color will subside which indicates full absorption is peaked.
The mixture is filled with gentle ingredients, including reef-safe minerals and nourishing organic ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter, which is just as safe for sensitive skin users as it is for the environment.
The Cons: Users may need to reapply every hour or so because I don’t find this sunscreen to have much waterproofing or staying power. But this is the price you pay if you want a light sheer lotion that leaves your skin unclogged and less greasy. The lightness of the lotion also makes it likely to cause sunburn so please reapply consistently.
Raw Elements Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen
Love love love this sunscreen! For starters, the little tub it comes in is genius; reusable, recyclable and quite portable – carry in your purse, beach bag, pocket, you name it. Enjoy its use by simply swiping your fingers along the surface to retrieve just the right amount of butter-like textured sunscreen.
For the best results, rub the lotion between your palms first, then massage onto your skin and watch how it covers leaving your skin feeling silky and conditioned.
It is reef safe purely from the ingredients it’s made with – 23% non nano zinc oxide along with organic sunflower oil, green tea, black tea, coffee, hemp seed oil, cocoa butter, beeswax and all natural mango butter, rosemary oil extract plus vitamin E.
It offers UVA-UVB broad-spectrum SPF 30 coverage, with no synthetic chemicals.
It is soy, gluten and nut free, and gentle on your skin, which makes it perfect for kids and grown-ups with delicate skin.
The Cons: Reapply every 30 minutes as the texture is of medium viscosity with a silky feeling and tends to rub away quite easily. Also don’t spend extremely long hours in the sun, perhaps 30 minutes for each use or reapplication.
Top Pick for Minimal Ingredients
All Good Organic Sunscreen Butter
Mix 25% zinc oxide with organic coconut oil, beeswax, calendula flowers, jojoba oil, and vitamin E and there you have it – All Good Organic Sunscreen Butter.
These 6 ingredients create a pretty effective sunblock lotion with optimized UVA and UVB guard and water resistivity for 80 minutes of lasting effects.
With such minimal ingredients, users can expect a highly hypoallergenic formula. So if you’re having challenges trying to find a biodegradable sunscreen that is less likely to cause your skin to break-out, then this may be the solution you are looking for.
The lotion goes on white but rubs in clear and has a light subtly oily texture, which absorbs well and makes your skin feel soft and hydrated.
For application, we suggest taking a quick swim beforehand to get your skin slightly moist. Then rub the lotion into your skin until it feels moisturized.
If you need to do two applications in one sitting then feel free to do so as this will yield better results.
The Cons: Comes in a nifty tin container package however this only provides 1 oz. of solution and let’s not forget you’re paying $20 bucks. Application is not the easiest, as mentioned before; you may need to pre-moisten your skin prior to application for proper coverage.
Badger Sport Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream (SPF 35)
The Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream is reef friendly and biodegradable, which means it’s safe for coral reefs and other ecosystems.
Potently made with zinc oxide, don;t worry, yes, it goes on clear.
SPF 35 doesn’t sound like much, but this lotion will give you an hour in sun without fear of sunburn.
It’s also pretty water resistant, so if you’re a sports enthusiast or have to work in the sun and often work up a good sweat, then this is the sunscreen for you.
The lotion has a nice scent but it’s hard to describe, I’d say flowery with bursts of tangerine maybe.
The texture is a bit thicker than I am accustomed too, but provides very good moisturizing care and makes me tan better. I would imagine these features are derived from the ingredients included in its mixture, i.e. sunflower oil, beeswax, jojoba, and vitamin E.
The Cons: Heavy consistency, especially for some users. It is quite thick and may feel heavy and uncomfortable on the skin.
Top Pick for Vegan and Cruelty Free
Suntegrity Skincare - Natural Mineral Sunscreen
This award winning sunscreen, made the “Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens” list and received a #1 Rating in the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. Not too shabby for a super natural and vegan made product.
It’s also one of the best options for optimum sun guard, as it contains 20% non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide for broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
It’s a non-greasy formula and is free of harsh chemicals. Instead the list of ingredients is loaded with antioxidants and include some of the best skin nourishing boosters — aloe Vera leaf juice, organic green tea leaf extract, coconut oil extract, sweet orange essential oil, grapefruit oil, tangerine oil, organic cucumber fruit extract, sunflower seed oil, pomegranate seed oil and jojoba seed oil.
The lotion is easy to apply and has a terrific citrus scent that lasts.
It has a pretty good reputation for being allergy free, I have never experienced any bad skin reactions or know it to have caused such cases with anyone.
The Cons: Not very water resistant so you will need to reapply if you’re sweating a lot or have submerged yourself in water.
It may leave behind a white residue, I suggest deeply rubbing the solution during application and you will see less white and more of your actual complexion.
Love Sun Body 100% Natural Mineral Sunscreen
Another great sunscreen is Love Sun Body. It ticks off on all the major properties you would normally expect from a sunscreen lotion. Broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, waterproofing for up to 80 minutes in the water, clinically tested hypoallergenic, smells good and doubles as a high effecting moisturizer plus it is biodegradable.
Users can look forward to 100% natural, plant-based and pure ingredients such as sunflower seed, coconut and almond oils, which when combined creates a terrific skin conditioner. It is also gluten-free, vegan and cruelty-free.
The lotion has a great texture of light to medium viscosity that applies and rubs-in quite easily without leaving any unsightly white residue behind.
It has been clinically proven to be non-irritating and noncomedogenic (not likely to clog pores), which makes it perfectly safe for sensitive skin and a great option for anyone who suffers from skin conditions like rosacea and eczema.
The Cons: Carries a hefty price tag and is the most expensive on this list. The texture is not favored by many since it’s not exactly lightweight.
Christina Moss Naturals Sunscreen
This biodegradable and eco-friendly sunscreen lotion is made with a bunch of natural ingredients and no harmful chemicals, so it is coral reef safe and especially harmless to marine life.
Included in its formula is carrot extract – a good source of beta-carotene, potassium and vitamin K1, plus green tea extract – a potent antioxidant to slow aging and prevent skin damage, coconut oil – keeps skin moisturized and protected as well as aloe Vera – locks in moisture and promotes healthy skin.
A bottle of Christina Moss Naturals provides sun-blocking protection, i.e. UVA/UVB broad spectrum SPF 30, for a safe outdoor experience and water resistivity for up 80 minutes. The formula is noncomedogenic, non-nano, non-allergenic which makes it great for sensitive skin.
The Cons: Goes on white and is a bit harder to rub into the skin than other sunscreens on this list. I would suggest applying to semi moist skin beforehand. It’s also hard to wash off, so you may need a course rag or loofah for some assistance.