Here’s everything to know about coral reef-safe sunscreen, sunblock, and SPF and where to buy a bottle now in Hong Kong.
By now, we should all be aware of the importance of wearing sunscreen (FYI, you should really wear some form of UV protection daily, not just when you’re out in the sun!). But beyond that, have you ever stopped to consider what your choice of SPF is doing to our coral reefs and marine life? Here is what you should know about reef-safe sunscreen and sunblock, and the choices that promise to both protect our skin and the sea.
What To Consider About Reef-Safe Sunscreen And The Sea
It’s a known fact that UV rays and sun exposure can cause sunburn, premature ageing and, most importantly, skin cancer; but we have to acknowledge that while we need to stay safe, our choice of sunscreen could be harming the environment in a big way. The numbers say it all: 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year, while up to 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be tainting the seas.¹ These toxic ingredients not only lead to coral bleaching and the destruction of our reefs but can also detrimentally affect marine life.
So, what can we do about it? While there are many enemies of reefs (plastic pollution and sewage to name but a few), our choice of sunscreen is one factor that we can completely control, and immediately! Luckily, scientific advances have made it possible for us to opt for “reef-friendly” or reef-safe sunscreen and SPF products, which use physical UVA and UVB filters as opposed to harmful chemical ones.
How Do I Know If My SPF Is A Reef-Safe Sunscreen?
It’s important to note that the terms reef-safe and reef-friendly are not regulated, so you can’t always trust products with this description. A safer bet is to take a long, hard look at the ingredients list, and make sure to avoid sunscreen and sunblock² that contains the following:
- Products which contain petrolatum (commonly known as mineral oil), which is harmful, even fatal, to marine life and birds. It takes years to biodegrade.
- Oxybenzone, octinoxate, butylparaben and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, which cause coral bleaching.³
While we can only hope that more countries will follow in Hawaii’s footsteps and pass a bill to ban sunscreen and sunblock that can harm coral reefs, as individuals we all have the power to make small changes by switching to products that don’t contain harmful ingredients. Here are a few of our favourites to help you get started…
Read More: Local Sustainable Fashion Brands We Love
Reef-Safe Sunscreens We Love
Australian Gold, Botanical Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, $155.50
Avasol, Surfer’s Barrier Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+, $180
Badger, Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30, $110.70
Beauty of Joseon, Relief Sun SPF 50+ PA++++, $70
Drunk Elephant, Umbra™ Sheer Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30, $285
Pai, British Summer Time Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30, $350
REN Clean Skincare, Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30, $313.90
ROUND LAB, Birch Juice Moisturizing Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA++++, $22.40 USD
Salt & Stone, Lightweight Sheer Daily Sunscreen SPF 40, $280
Supergoop!, Unseen Sunscreen, From $140
The Ordinary, Mineral UV Filters SPF 15, $86.90
Thinksport, Sunscreen SPF 50, $153.50
¹Zachos, Elaina and Rosen, Eric. “What sunscreens are best for you—and the planet?”, National Geographic, 21 May 2019.
²It’s common now to use the terms sunscreen and sunblock interchangeably, which we have done here for ease, but sunblock technically refers to SPF with a physical shield (i.e. block) and sunscreen refers to ones with chemical filters that absorb UV light and convert it into heat, which is then released from the skin. Many SPF products on the market today combine physical and chemical filters, as well as UVB and UVA-targetted filters. You can find out more here.
³Sources: Badger Balm and Save The Reef
Editor’s Note: All listed prices were correct at the time of publication. “What You Need To Know About Reef-Safe Sunscreen” was originally published by Lexi Davey on 5 June, 2018, and was most recently updated in June 2022 by Sakina Abidi. With thanks to Jessica Ng for her contribution.
Please note that this article contains some affiliate links to products and we may receive a commission for select purchases.
Main image courtesy of Getty, image 1 courtesy of John Cahil Rom via Pexels, image 2 courtesy of Armin Rimoldi via Pexels, image 3 courtesy of Ubuy, image 4 courtesy of Avasol, image 5 courtesy of Badger Balm, image 6 courtesy of Beauty of Joseon, image 7 courtesy of Drunk Elephant, image 8 courtesy of Pai, image 9 courtesy of REN Clean Skincare, image 10 courtesy of ROUND LAB via Instagram, image 11 courtesy of Salt & Stone, image 12 courtesy of Supergoop!, image 13 courtesy of Cult Beauty, image 14 courtesy of iHerb.