Skip to content
Reef Safe Sunscreen Guide

Reef Safe Sunscreen Guide

As a sun safe clothing company on a mission to prevent skin cancer we always stress the importance of taking all measures to protect yourself from the sun, which means wearing (and reapplying) sunscreen! Guest writer, environmental activist and brilliant student, Danielle Mazlish, breaks down the importance of reef safe sunscreen and the ingredients you need to look out for!

"Hi! My name is Danielle Mazlish and I am a junior at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, NY. I have been studying coral preservation in school for the past two years and it has led me to become an advocate for the use of reef safe sunscreen. Learning about coral reefs and their habitat helped me find my passion for sustainability and environmental preservation. I am now working with Island Green Living Association, a non-profit in St. John USVI, to spread the word about reef-safe sunscreen in the Virgin Islands. Their organization was responsible for the law to ban non reef-safe sunscreen in the Virgin Islands. I visit St. John frequently and notice that many tourists are using harmful chemical sunscreens despite a law that bans their use. Because of this, I devote most of my time spreading awareness and educating people about how they may be harming the environment. I also have a personal blog of my own that focuses on global environmental topics as well as sustainability tips.

For many, applying sunscreen is part of a daily routine. Because of this, it is important to be mindful of what ingredients are in our sunscreens. 

According to NOAA, the chemicals in toxic sunscreens can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform and even kill coral reefs. Unfortunately, many studies show that oxybenzone & octinoxate, two of the more widely studied chemicals in sunscreens, cause coral bleaching. Coral bleaching happens when environmental stressors cause the coral to expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white from its low nutrient levels. Not only are coral reefs one of the world’s largest pools of biodiversity, but they also protect coastlines and provide jobs for local communities. These reefs serve as homes for millions of marine organisms and we can’t afford to lose them. 

When it comes to shopping for sunscreens, a bit more awareness and cooperation can make saving our beautiful marine ecosystems much easier. 

How do I know if my sunscreen is reef-safe?

Since most sunscreens don’t have a “reef-safe” label, the first thing you should do is check the ingredients. The key active ingredients to avoid are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. Additionally, watch out for Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, and Octocrylene.

You should be good to go any mineral-based sunscreen but it's always best to make sure on the ingredient label. The ingredients that you should look for are zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide. These ingredients form a physical block to UV rays (whereas chemical sunscreens absorb UV and turn it into heat that’s released from skin). 

The particle size of the components in sunscreen also matters! If a sunscreen contains nanoparticles, it can be easily absorbed by the reef and cause damage.

Lastly, it is important to be aware of the type of packaging the sunscreen comes in. You should always try to use products that cut back on single use plastic packaging. 

Skin Care

The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are also harmful to human health. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the ingredients in safe MINERAL (reef-safe) sunscreens, are currently the only sunscreen ingredients deemed “generally recognized as safe and effective” (GRAS) by the FDA. Dermatologists have also recommended the benefits of mineral sunscreen for skincare while protecting you from sunburn.


Although there are many awesome reef-safe sunscreen brands and products, I have listed some of my favorites below in no particular order. 

  1. Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen
  2. Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
  3. Badger Clear Zinc Sunscreen
  4. All Good Sport Sunscreen
  5. Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen
  6. Earth Mama Organics Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
  7. Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen

While banning oxybenzone-like compounds will not “fix the coral reefs,” it is essential to make people aware that their actions or inaction affect the environment. Currently, non-reef-safe sunscreens are banned in Hawaii, Palau, the U.S. Virgin Islands, parts of Mexico, Key West, Aruba & Bonaire. Making the choice to purchase this sunscreen moves us closer to a better world everyday. So please, take the time to think about our oceans before you restock on your sunscreen."

Cabana Life Nautical Embroidered Tunic Dress

Sunscreen is such a key part of daily sun safety. Make sure you use the SPF best for you AND the environment! For more sun protection tips see our blog. Explore Cabana Life UPF 50+ new arrivals or best sellers

Follow us on Instagram & Facebook for more sun safety information and style inspiration.