7 Reef-Safe Sun Protection Options To Try This Summer 

7 Reef-Safe Sun Protection Options To Try This Summer 

You know that protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is non-negotiable. But what about protecting marine environments from your sun protection? Traditional sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that can damage coral reefs (among other things). From sun protection clothing and using a hat for sun protection to reef-safe sunscreen, here are seven ocean-friendly alternatives to cover up with this summer.

There’s nothing worse than coming home from a long day by the water with the painful, tender feeling of a fresh sunburn. And sunburns don’t just hurt. They can lead to harmful issues down the road such as skin damage, premature aging, and even skin cancer.

But the most common way to avoid sunburn–sunscreen– has its own set of dangerous secrets. Most traditional sunscreens contain harsh chemicals, the most common of which is oxybenzone. When swimmers use chemical sunscreen, it inevitably washes off into the water. These chemicals are best documented for damaging the fragile marine ecosystem. But they can have harmful effects on rivers and lakes, too. The chemicals found in traditional sunscreen lotion can bleach coral reefs, inhibit the growth of green algae, and cause defects in fish and dolphins.

Luckily, there are many reef-safe sunscreen alternatives. Before you cover up with that bottle of drug store sunscreen, try out these planet-friendly options:


7 Reef Safe Sunscreen and Sun Protection Alternatives

  1. Collect a few sun protection shirts

One of the easiest and best ways to avoid sunburns is by literally covering up. But not all clothing protects you the same. To ensure that you’re truly safe from those UV rays, look for sun protection shirts with a UPF rating. UPF, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor, designates just how good a material is at blocking UV rays. The higher the number, the better. For ultimate protection, look for sun protection shirts with a UPF rating of 50+.

  • Pick a UPF-rated hat for sun protection

  • You can’t beat a UPF-rated hat for sun protection for a reef-safe and sunburn-free solution. Hats offer non-stop coverage for the parts of your body that are most likely to suffer from skin damage. And with nothing to lather on, you can enjoy nature knowing you’re leaving it free of chemicals. Just make sure that the head covering you choose is UPF rated by a trusted source, such as ARPANSA. For hot and humid days, look for a hat for sun protection made of lightweight and breezy materials like recycled plastic or organic raffia. We love this style for complete protection.

    1. Try this all-natural, reef-safe sunscreen for your face

    Raw Elements is leading the change towards truly reef-safe sunscreen. Going beyond cutting out the top polluting chemicals, their face sunscreen is entirely plant-based, Leaping Bunny Certified, and even biodegradable. It’s a chosen favorite by many beaches in Hawaii, which have some of the strictest rules about which sunscreens can be used in their waters. Looking for a tinted face sunscreen? Try their tinted daily moisturizer. It’s SPF 30 and comes entirely plastic-free.

    How to tell if sunscreen is reef-safe?

    Many sunscreen brands may claim to be “reef-safe.” But the unfortunate truth is that this is not always true. The term “reef-safe sunscreen” isn’t regulated at this time. So you’ll have to take matters into your own hands to find an environmentally safe option.

    First, look for a sunscreen that is oxybenzone-free. This is the most harmful chemical in most sunscreens. But there are many other chemicals that can still cause damage, so your best bet is to look for a mineral-based sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens will most commonly have an active ingredient of zinc oxide. Finally, look for a non-nano mineral sunscreen. Certain places, such as Hawaii, have specific guidelines about what ingredients are allowed on their beaches. Make sure to check out information specific to your destination before traveling.

    1. Invest in a beach umbrella or canopy

    If you prefer to relax on the sand rather than in the water, a portable shade solution can offer a fantastic, reef-safe alternative to chemical sunscreen. Just like clothing and hats, look for a beach umbrella or canopy that’s UPF rated. Preferably, choose one that’s UPF 30+. Just make sure to toss on that UPF shirt and a hat if you head into the water or out for a walk.

    1. Lather your body with mineral-based sunscreen

    Spending your day doing something active outdoors? If it’s hot out, it’ll be hard to wear protective clothing that covers your whole body. A reef-safe sunscreen for your body is a must. Badger is a fantastic choice for mineral-based sunscreen. With just five ingredients, 98% of which are certified organic, they offer one of the cleanest choices for your skin and the planet. By using zinc oxide rather than harsh chemicals, their reef-safe sunscreen protects without damaging marine life. Find protection from 30 to 50 SPF on their website.

    1. Clothing with sun protection doesn’t stop on land: UPF-rated surf clothes

    Headed out to catch some waves? While you’ll surely want to slather on some reef-safe sunscreen for your face, you can protect your body with UPF-rated surf gear. Look for wet and dry suits with a UPF rating. And in the summer, consider using a UPF-rated rash guard shirt. While it’s not a complete alternative to chemical sunscreen, a rash guard can protect commonly burned spots like your back and shoulders from the sun. Just remember to cover any other areas of the skin with a quality, mineral-based sunscreen.


    1. Don’t forget the sunglasses

    Yep- your eyes can catch a sunburn, too. Actually, exposure to bright sunlight can seriously damage your eyes and lead to cataracts and long-term damage. So using a pair of sunglasses when you’re outdoors is important. As with reef-safe sunscreen and UPF-rated sun hats and clothing, you’ll want to ensure the sunglasses you choose offer real coverage. Look for sunglasses that are labeled to have 100% UV protection. Alternately, look for the label UV 400, which is the highest level of UV rating you can get from sunglasses. While polarized glasses offer protection from glare and make it easier to see in sunny, wet, and snowy conditions, they don’t automatically offer UV protection. The ideal pair of sunglasses will be polarized and rated UV 400. Paired with proper sun protection clothing, you’ll be set for a safe and fun day in nature!

    Choose from your favorite sun protection shirts, and grab a hat. Stay reef-safe with a UPF 50+ hat for sun protection.
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