What You Should Know About Reef-Safe Sunscreens

May 06, 2022
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | skincare.com by L'Oréal
person holding cerave sunscreen

While oxybenzone and octinoxate are common sunscreen ingredients that protect skin from harmful UV rays, they’re also known to bleach and kill coral reefs. That’s why in 2018, Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill banning SPF products that are formulated with these ingredients.

Thankfully, brands are catching on and coming out with oxybenzone- and octinoxate-free sunscreens. For more information and reef-safe sunscreen recommendations, we spoke to Dr. Latanya Benjamin, a Florida-based, board-certified pediatric dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon.

What to Know About the Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Ban

The bill Hawaii passed prevents the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are two common sunscreen ingredients. The idea behind the ban was to “prohibit sunscreens that contain chemicals that could contribute to bleaching of the coral reefs,” says Dr. Benjamin. The ban officially took effect in Hawaii in January 2021. Other islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, have followed suit, even going as far as to ban tourists from bringing sunscreens with these chemicals to the islands.

The Difference Between Chemical and Physical Sunscreen

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a chemical sunscreen protects you by absorbing the sun’s rays and is formulated with one or more of many possible active ingredients, such as oxybenzone or octinoxate. Physical (or mineral) sunscreens, on the other hand, provide protection by deflecting the sun’s rays and usually contain reef-safe blockers like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients.

The Best Sunscreens Without Oxybenzone and Octinoxate

It’s important to keep in mind that oxybenzone and octinoxate are FDA-approved ingredients in sunscreens. That said, if you’re looking for alternatives, find our favorite sunscreens formulated without either, below.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios UV Correct Face Sunscreen SPF 70 With Niacinamide

Oxybenzone-free and octinoxate-free, this sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays while also correcting signs of sun damage with the help of niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3.

SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50

If you detest sunscreens that leave behind a white cast, you’ll likely find yourself interested in this mineral option. The formula, which contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, doesn’t skimp on protection and offers a transparent, weightless finish.

Kiehl’s Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50+

Having acne is no excuse to skip out on sunscreen. This pick from Kiehl’s is suitable for acne-prone skin, provides a universal sheer tint and has skin-loving ingredients like vitamin E. It’s also lightweight, fast-absorbing and leaves a matte finish.

CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Face Tint

Achieve a healthy glow while protecting your skin with this tinted sunscreen. The non-greasy formula contains niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to retain moisture and blends seamlessly into every skin tone without a white cast.

Vichy Capital Soleil Soft Sheer Sunscreen SPF 60

Water-resistant for 80 minutes and allergy-tested, this sunscreen is great for both the face and body. It’s formulated with a special antioxidant complex that contains vitamin E and white grape extract to fight signs of aging and protect the skin from free radical damage.

Supergoop! Glowscreen Body SPF 40

This oil-free sunscreen has a whipped texture and shimmery finish that hydrates and illuminates the skin for a healthy glow. It’s also sweat- and water-resistant so you can feel extra protected while enjoying your beach day — but don’t forget to reapply every two hours.

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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