What You Should Know About Reef-Safe SunscreensMay 16, 2023
While oxybenzone and octinoxate are common sunscreen ingredients that protect skin from UV rays, they’re also known to bleach and harm coral reefs. That’s why in 2018, Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill banning SPF products that are formulated with these ingredients.
Thankfully, many brands now offer 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 Is Reef-Safe Sunscreen?
In January 2021, a bill that prevented the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common sunscreen ingredients, took effect in Hawaii. The idea behind the ban was to “prohibit sunscreens that contain chemicals that could contribute to bleaching of the coral reefs,” says Dr. Benjamin. 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. Some islands have also instituted a ban on all non-mineral sunscreens. Before you travel, look up the sunscreen regulations of the country you’re visiting.
What Is Oxybenzone?
Oxybenzone is a compound that is commonly found in sunscreens, specifically chemical or chemical-mineral hybrid sunscreens. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is a derivative of benzophenone, a UV curing agent that is often used in cosmetics. Oxybenzone helps protect the skin by absorbing the sun’s UVA rays.
Is Oxybenzone Safe?
Oxybenzone is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an active ingredient in sunscreens. When used in accordance with FDA regulations, oxybenzone is a safe and protective ingredient in sunscreen.
What Is Octinoxate?
Octinoxate is a cinnamate ester and a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, according to the National Library of Medicine. It helps shield the skin by absorbing UVB rays from the sun.
Is Octinoxate Safe?
Like oxybenzone, octinoxate is an FDA-approved and regulated ingredient found in many chemical sunscreen products.
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.
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. Keep in mind that this is still a chemical sunscreen, so while it does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, the formula does contain actives such as avobenzone and homosalate, which are not considered reef-safe, according to the Coral Reef Education Institute.
This physical-chemical hybrid sunscreen formula is delightfully sheer and lightweight, leaving behind zero residue or white cast. It’s hydrating and protective, formulated with ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
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.
This 100% mineral sunscreen contains titanium dioxide and Vichy’s proprietary soothing volcanic water. Safe for all skin types, including sensitive, it’s a gentle pick that’s fragrance-free, allergy-tested and gives your skin a glow with a sheer 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 leaving a white cast.
Have dry, sensitive or post-procedure skin? This sunscreen belongs on your radar. The formula uses broad-spectrum mineral filters, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, paired with artemia salina, a calming plankton extract. The nourishing texture leaves skin soft, calm and hydrated.
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. This formula does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, but it does contain actives such as avobenzone and homosalate.
Use this sunscreen to protect and even out your skin tone simultaneously. The 100% mineral formula offers a subtle tint thanks to translucent, glow-enhancing color spheres that will complement most skin tones. It’s water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.
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. Note that this is still a chemical sunscreen, with active ingredients that are not considered to be reef-safe.
This oil-free, broad-spectrum sunscreen provides SPF 70 in a sheer, mineral-based formula. In addition to providing impressive protection, this pick is fragrance-free, cruelty-free and boasts 80 minutes of water resistance.
This 100% mineral sunscreen boasts 80 minutes of sweat- and water-resistance, making it a reliable pick for everyday. The sensitive-skin-friendly formula is packed with moisturizing ingredients like shea butter, antioxidant vitamin E and cucumber and papaya extracts.
This antioxidant-rich, 100% mineral sunscreen checks all of our beach-day boxes: It’s sheer, lightweight and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Plus, it’s fragrance-free, which is ideal for those who prefer to forgo scented skincare products.
This featherlight, vitamin E-enhanced sunscreen is a lightweight pick that layers seamlessly under makeup. It’s silky and sheer, so it glides on effortlessly and won’t leave a white cast.
Adorable packaging aside, this sunscreen is an AM staple thanks to its gentle, baby-friendly mineral formula and fast-absorbing consistency. We also love that it’s hypoallergenic, cruelty-free and made without synthetic fragrances.