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What Is Reef Safe Sunscreen?


In a world with so many different brands and products—each presenting their own claim to fame and set of benefits—it can be overwhelming to find what works for you. Sunscreen is no different.

When it comes to choosing a sunscreen, there are a few key requirements. For starters, you want something that offers substantial, long-lasting coverage. You want something that isn't too oily, fragrant, or sticky. And of course, you need a sunscreen that will do its job of protecting you from the sun's damaging rays. But how about a sunscreen that is eco-friendly?

One of the biggest sun protection trends right now is “reef safe sunscreen. We know what you're thinking—what does that even mean?

Believe it or not, certain chemicals found in everyday sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, are actually harming coral reefs and other marine life. When you take a dip in the ocean, the chemicals and oils from these lotions are trickling off of your body and slowly polluting the ocean. Said chemicals accelerate the bleaching of coral and are often the culprits of killing coral reefs altogether. While it seems miniscule in the grand scheme of things, select skincare companies have decided to take action to avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate in their products. Hence, reef safe sunscreen.  

Reef safe sunscreen is different than standard sunscreen in that it is more mineral based, and avoids harmful chemicals. For example, they will often have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as a safer alternative to the above chemicals. While standard sunscreens will absorb the UV rays into your skin, and then turn them into heat to later release, reef safe sunscreens will use the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles to deflect the UV rays off of your skin as a whole.

It sounds simple, right? Wrong. One thing to consider is the label. While the tube of sunscreen may claim to be mineral-based, that does not necessarily mean it is reef friendly. To differentiate, look at the active and inactive ingredient on the bottle and choose the option without oxybenzone, octinoxate, butylparaben, and/or 4-methylbenzylidene camphor.

Reef safe sunscreen tends to blend less easily than your standard sunscreen due to the zinc ingredients (think the white nose of a lifeguard), but on all other counts it works just the same.

At the end of the day, both types of sunscreen are proven to work in combating unwarranted UV rays. What it really comes down to is preference, and whether or not potentially affecting the ocean and its habitants is a deal-breaker for you.

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