4 Reef-Safe & Eco-Friendly Sunscreens


Written by Katherine Alex Beaven on

Katherine Alex Beaven is a U.S.-based writer with an uncanny knack for spotting stray cats. Road trips, train journeys, and eating local food are her favorite ways to explore both new and old destinations. Follow her adventures on Instagram @kalexbeaven.


Your current sunscreen may protect you but is it hurting the environment? Here are the best reef-safe sunscreens—and an explanation of what that means and what to look for in an eco-friendly sunblock.

The sun can be a cruel mistress, which is why it’s important to remember to pack (or buy) sunscreen for almost every trip. You can get burned just as easily on the beach as you can on ski slopes, hikes, or walking tours. But did you know that while sunscreen works to protect you, it can damage the environment, particularly when worn while scuba diving, snorkeling, or swimming in natural water?

In fact, it’s estimated that somewhere between 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen dissolves off human bodies over coral reef systems every year, significantly contributing to coral bleaching and reef die-off. Already, over one-fifth of the world’s coral reefs have died. This is why it is imperative to wear biodegradable, reef-safe sunscreen whenever you’re planning on going into the water—otherwise we threaten the very reason we strap on masks and fins in the first place. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a guide to the best reef-safe sunscreens to help you get one step closer in your journey toward sustainable travel.

How to Spot Sustainable, Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Most reef-safe sunscreens are proud and will say it right on the bottle. Keep your eye out for the reef-safe designation seals so you know it’s the real deal. Oftentimes, brands will tout being reef-friendly—this is not the same as reef-safe.

In order to be reef safe, your sunscreen cannot contain oxybenzone or octinoxate (the two main culprits that cause coral bleaching), but should also not list octocrylene, PABA, enzacamene, octisalate, homosalate, or avobenzone as ingredients, just to be extra safe. This pretty much means that only sunscreens made with the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered reef-safe, and to hit the jackpot look for sunscreens that are marked “non-nano” (meaning the particles are too big to be absorbed by the coral).

Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen Brands

1. Kokua Sun Care

In 2018, Hawaii banned sunscreens containing reef-harming ingredients. It only makes sense that one of the best reef-safe sunscreens is from Hawaii. Kokua Sun Care is an SPF50 mineral sunscreen made from zinc oxide and other natural ingredients like plumeria, honey, and coffee extract. It boasts up to 80 minutes of water resistance, goes on clear, and has a non-greasy appearance—and the tube it comes in is 100% recyclable. Once opened, it stays effective for up to two years, so you’re free to keep it into your luggage between trips (just don’t forget to take it out if you plan on checking your bag).

2. All Good Sport Sunscreen Spray

One of the biggest gripes of 100% mineral-based sunscreens is that they end up looking chalky on your skin. Plus, who doesn’t love the convenience of spraying instead of slathering on your sunscreen? Thankfully, the folks over at All Good have a happy medium: All Good Sport Sunscreen Spray. It’s made from a reef-safe combination of zinc and natural botanicals like aloe, green tea, and rose hips (which actually help repair sun damage to skin) and use air-powered aerosol. However, since they are too large to fit into a waist pack, you’ll have to pack the bottle inside a larger travel bag (like a grab-and-go Migrate Duffel) or slide it into the side pocket of a packable daypack.

3. Sun Bum Signature SPF30 Lip Balm

Lips are often overlooked when it comes to sun protection, but the truth is that your body isn’t the only thing that needs to be protected from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, regular lip balms—or even lip balms with sunscreen—are often made with chemicals that can come off and pollute waters and rivers. Keep your smoocher and the environment safe with Sun Bum’s Signature SPF30 Lip Balm. This super-portable lip balm is made from reef-safe ingredients like zinc oxide, beeswax, and botanical oils and can slip easily into a travel toiletry kit, waist bag, or even your pocket.

4. Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen Stick

Got sensitive skin? Anyone with a kid knows that holding them steady long enough to smear or spray on the right amount of sun lotion can be a challenge. Thinkbaby’s Safe Sunscreen Stick is easy to apply to wiggling loved ones (and works great for spots with sensitive skin, like your face). Made entirely of non-nano zinc oxide, this sunscreen doesn’t feel oily, lacks the typical sunscreen smell, and is water-resistant up to 80 minutes. It’s about the size of a stick of deodorant, so it’s travel-ready and fits into most toiletry bags, easy-access backpack pockets, or convenient, crossbody shoulder bags.

Eagle Creek is a big believer in creating eco-friendly products, which is why we keep sustainability at the forefront of our minds. Check out our collection of sustainable, PVC- free products that are made with recycled plastics and integrate bluesign® fabrics.

Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

7 Ways to Become a More Sustainable Traveler

How to Make Your Travel More Environmentally Friendly

Choose Sustainability Every Step of the Way