Total caveat: no suncream is 100% safe for aquatic life. For fail-safe protection - for both your skin and the ocean - it's best to wear a rash guard or wetsuit. That being said, some suncreams are better than others. When it comes to reef-safe suncream, there are a few key labels to look out for to ensure you're slathering up as environmentally friendly as possible. However, if, like us, the thought of perusing the labels of hundreds of suncream brands in your local supermarket fills you with horror, discover our top reef-safe suncream suggestions for 2023.
Reef-Safe Suncream Essentials: The Three O’s
Unfortunately, the terms 'reef-safe' and 'reef-friendly' aren't regulated, so it's important to keep an eye out for a few key labels. Firstly, all true reef-safe suncreams are free of the 'three O's:' oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene. While these chemical compounds are effective at absorbing and blocking UV rays, they have been linked to coral bleaching, genetic damage to coral cells and coral polyp deformation.
Reef-Safe Suncream Essentials: It’s a Mineral Consideration
Without the 'three O's' you might be wondering how reef-safe suncreams protect your skin. Instead, reef-safe suncreams contain mineral (physical) UV filters like zinc and titanium dioxide. That being said, not all mineral suncreams are truly eco-friendly. You'll also need to look for suncreams labelled as 'biodegradable' or 'non-nano.' Biodegradable suncreams are designed to break down naturally in the environment, and non-nano particles are larger and less likely to be absorbed by marine organisms. That's a lot to consider, which is why we've done the hard work and compiled our top picks for truly reef-safe suncreams to take on your next diving holiday.
1. Arbonne Mineral Suncream
Arbonne is a certified B Corp, so you know its eco-credentials are squeaky clean. For those who aren't familiar with B Corp certification, it's a set of the highest social and environmental standards (among other ethical attributes) that verified businesses must meet. Aside from meeting the reef-safe suncream essentials, Arbonne is also vegan, Peta-approved and water-resistant.
2. UpCircle SPF25 Mineral Suncream
Another B Corp, all UpCircle's products are vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free and come in plastic-free, 100% recyclable packaging. If you've tried mineral suncream before, chances are you've been left with a thick white cast over your skin. But not with Upcircle. These mineral wizards have managed to work out a magic lightweight formula that blends into the skin easily. UpCircle's top trump? Send your empty glass jar back and they'll top it up for you for a discount.
3. Green People Scent-Free Suncream
Green People is the OG reef-safe suncream brand. Not only is this natural suncream certified organic, fragrance-free and water-repellent, it also donates 20p to the Marine Conservation Society for every suncream sold - racking up an impressive £130,000 in donations so far. Taking it one step further, Green People also donate their time by organizing beach clean-up events.
4. Badger Balm
There's nothing worse than looking at a label equipped with a whopping great paragraph of ingredient gobbledygook. With Badger Balm, you can count the number (and understand) the ingredients in their suncreams. This B Corp also advocates for community-based legislation, banning the use of coral harming suncream ingredients and has pledged to reach net-zero by 2030 by transitioning to 100% solar energy. Solar powered suncream, if you will.
If you haven't been thoroughly convinced on the effectiveness of reef-safe suncream, spare a thought for the countries taking a stance. The negative effects of suncreams on local reefs and ocean life, particularly in tourist hotspots, is taking its toll. Since the 80's, the Caribbean has lost 90% of its total reefs, while Australia's Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the last three decades. While this isn't solely the outcome of suncream - climate change, habitat destruction and pollution are all contributors - using reef-harming suncreams makes it harder for corals to fight against other human-led threats.
Thankfully, destinations across the world are starting to hop aboard their soap box in favour of mineral suncreams, from raising awareness to banning the sale of reef-harming suncreams. However, seven destinations are taking this one step further. Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Palau, Bonaire, Key West in Florida and ecotourism reserves in Mexico have implemented a complete ban on the use of reef-harming suncreams.
While it's encouraging to see countries taking a hard stance to protect the world's underwater treasures, individual action is pivotal to preserving the underwater world - starting with the purchase of reef-safe suncream.