Reef safe sunscreen? Sorting facts from fiction.

Reef safe sunscreen? Sorting facts from fiction.

It took six years of research, development know-how and input from planet-protecting NGOs to answer our customer’s calls for a Clean to Skin sunscreen. Why so long? Because we weren't willing to compromise our Clean to Planet ethos to create it. Common chemicals and additives found in sunscreens (among other products) have long been documented to be harmful to aquatic life, specifically coral reefs.

You may see ‘reef safe’ on certain sunscreens, but 100% safety is unfortunately a myth, as some reefs may still be adversely affected and the term ‘reef safe’ itself is unregulated. A sunscreen however can take steps to be more ‘reef friendly’ and this is what we’re here to discuss.

Liquid error (snippets/image-fill line 147): invalid url input

Chemical vs. Physical. 

There are two types of sunscreen (which you can read a little about here)  with physical sunscreen being arguably the more Clean to Skin. Neither however are perfectly ‘reef safe’. A chemical sunscreen uses compounds like Oxybenzone and Avobenzone (to name a couple) to absorb the sun's rays, change them into heat and release that heat from the skin. Once these chemicals reach the reef they have the ability to decrease corals’ defenses against bleaching, damaging their DNA and hurting their development.

Mineral sunscreens create a physical shield using components like Zinc Oxide to offer a protective layer that deflect the sun rays off the skin. However, to dull down that often ‘chalky’ cast from an all-mineral sunscreen, these compounds are sometimes reduced to tiny ‘nano-particles’ to apply smoother and more transparent. So in addition to chemical sunscreens, nano-sized minerals can also pose a threat to coral, fish and other aquatic life.


Liquid error (snippets/image-fill line 147): invalid url input

From skin to the sea. 

How do these chemicals reach our reefs? It’s all down to us. The more obvious part being washing directly off of our skin while we swim in the sea, but city and inland dwellers wearing sunscreen to work are at risk too, as when showering or washing our faces these chemicals can find their way to the sea via our water system - they’re typically not filtered out at water treatment plants. With this in mind, it’s important to pick a sunscreen that minimises damage to coral and aquatic life and while we can’t say a sunscreen is “reef safe” there are steps we’ve taken to make ours “reef-friendlier”.


Liquid error (snippets/image-fill line 147): invalid url input

Non-nano technology. 

We get a little stick for Clean Screen applying white at first application - but we’re going to own it. It’s down to us using Non-Nano Zinc Oxide which is less likely to damage coral or aquatic creatures due to being a larger size. Plus, it protects skin just as effectively from sun’s rays, without the need for aforementioned chemicals of oxy and avobenzone - which can sometimes cause reactions on sensitive skin anyway. 

We (in theory) *could* create a sunscreen that’s untraceable, transparent and easily applied - but we’re not prepared to compromise the planet to do that. Plus, once Clean Screen is thoroughly rubbed in (easier if your skin is well moisturised) the pay-off is an uber-matte, smooth, sun and pollution protected complexion that's friendlier to our reefs. We think that’s worth a little extra rubbing, don’t you?


Liquid error (snippets/image-fill line 147): invalid url input

A word from Surfrider

Surfrider Foundation Staff Scientist, Katie Day writes, "While sunscreen chemicals are not the only cause of the many issues facing our coral reefs, they are a known stressor that we can have complete control over. We must do everything we can to protect the resilience and health of our reefs as they continue to face more natural disasters from a changing climate. Switching to reef-friendly products, like non-nano mineral based sunscreen, both at the beach and upstream, is a powerful step we can all take to protect our clean water, reefs and marine life." 

The Surfrider Foundation works tirelessly to protect the world’s coasts and waterways and has a plethora of advice about reef-friendly sunscreens, including ingredients to watch out for and practical advice. You can read what they have to say on their blog


Liquid error (snippets/image-fill line 147): invalid url input

Clean to planet considerations. 

As we’ve discovered – no SPF is truly reef-safe, but there are steps we can take to make sure we’re all being more reef-friendly while staying safe from the sun. 

•    Even if you’re using SPF, try to avoid sun at its strongest between 10am – 2pm. 

•    Cover up. Who doesn’t love showing some skin? But to minimise the need for so much sunscreen, cover with clothing or hats if you can. 

•    Use a ‘reef-friendly’ sunscreen – and check the label to make sure its active ingredients are mineral-only non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

•    Spread the word. Be that mildly preachy friend who recommends using reef-friendly sunscreen – don’t feel guilty about preaching, you’re helping the planet, after all.