How does a scuba diver choose a reef safe sunscreen?

Scuba women are exposed to the elements when diving, making sun care a necessity. UV rays reflecting off the water and wind increase the likelihood of sunburn. Passionate about scuba diving, I do not wish to harm the beautiful reefs I visit. I am conscious of what is on my skin and the potential damage it can do to the marine life and fragile coral reefs I admire. I also want a sunscreen that is safe for me, free of toxins that will nourish my skin and protect me from sunburn.

Suncare begins with seeking shade whenever possible, covering up and then finding a truly reef friendly sunscreen. Misleading, labels may mean we purchase a sunscreen claiming to be reef safe when the reality is it contains ingredients that harm our reefs. Searching for reef safe sunscreens can be confusing – natural mineral sunscreen? sport sunscreen? conventional chemical sunscreen? nano zinc oxide? non nano? zinc oxide? titanium dioxide? what are reef safe sunscreens? where does a scuba woman start?

Conscious of my fin print, I hope to remove the confusion when buying a reef safe sunscreen. As a scuba woman, I support brands that are helping save the oceans by manufacturing eco-friendly, reef-safe, sustainable, and ethical products. This post focuses on reef safe sunscreens from companies that live and breathe sustainability. Scuba women can shop with confidence knowing the brands below are trying to be better for our blue planet.

{Disclaimer:- I may earn a small commission as an affiliate for some of the products mentioned. For others, I may not; these are businesses that I genuinely believe in, creating a good product while helping save our planet. Did you know Amazon requires their sellers to wrap products in plastic?}

Table of Contents

Lady's leg with sunscreen on a beach
Practice sun care

How does a scuba diver choose an ocean safe sunscreen?

Conventional chemical sunscreens create a chemical reaction under the skin, converting UVA and UVB rays into heat before releasing them. Chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate deform young corals, damage DNA, disrupt reproductive cycles and endocrine systems, and cause coral bleaching; they are neither reef safe nor people safe.

A straw hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and flip flops on a sandy beach.
“Slip, Slop, Slap”

I am a scuba woman living in Queensland and have spent many hours exposed to the sun. I love diving and being in the water, on the beach, and in boats. Early mornings and summer evenings are glorious, but the harsh midday sun can burn within minutes. As a senior scuba woman, I take sun protection seriously and try to avoid sun exposure between 10am and 3pm, but it is not always practical on a dive boat. Like many other scuba women, I turn to sunscreen.

As an Australian, I grew up with the “Slip, Slop, Slap” campaign by the Cancer Council. – “Slip on a t-shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, and Slap on a hat.” I seek shade, cover-up, and then turn to sunscreen. I “Slip, Slop, Slap,” though I insist the sunscreen lotion I use is safe for my body and the aquatic world I dive in.

How does a scuba diver choose a reef safe sunscreen?

Misleading, unregulated labels make it difficult to identify true reef friendly sunscreens. Understanding labels is imperative when buying a reef safe sunscreen. My mission is to help scuba women dive and shop with confidence. Googled over 100 000 times a month, finding a reef-friendly sunscreen needs to be easy. Many sunscreens claim to be biodegradable, green, natural, or organic, which does not mean they are safe for our reefs.

Beautiful reef and tropical island
Protect our vulnerable reefs by using reef-safe sunscreen

The chemicals in conventional sunscreens threaten up to 10% of the world’s reefs. Always read the label and boycott sunscreens containing oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), octinoxate, homosalate, and avobenzone when choosing a sunscreen.

Showering, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing – 14 000 tons of sunscreen washes into our coral reefs yearly. A living organism, coral reefs provide shelter for thousands of marine animals, regulate carbon dioxide levels in the ocean, stabilize the ocean floor, filter water, and prevent coastal erosion by storm surges. I feel compelled to protect this intricate world.

A broad spectrum sunscreen offers the best protection, meaning the sunscreen reflects or absorbs at least 90% of the UV rays. A mineral sunscreen creates a barrier between your skin and the sun. A chemical sunscreen absorbs the rays under your skin, creating a chemical reaction.

For a free copy of my Reef Safe toxic chemical checklist, subscribe below:

A reef-safe sunscreen will not contain chemicals, nano particles, parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrances, or colors. When looking at your ingredient list, it is essential to look for non-nano particles. Nano particles are tiny particles that can leach into the water and hurt delicate ecosystems.

Everything a scuba diver needs to know about reef safe sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens are the safer option, forming a barrier on your skin to reflect UVA & UVB rays. The active ingredients in mineral sunscreen are non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They are recognized by the FDA to be safe and effective.

The Hawaiian-based, not-for-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL) sets the standard for reef-safe sunscreen and personal care products. If a sunscreen displays the Protect Land & Sea certification seal, it has been rigorously tested and found reef safe. HEL is making companies accountable for the ingredients they use and continue to randomly test to ensure companies are maintaining reef-safe standards.

Woman's hands holding a tube of sunscreen with a beach background
Know what’s in your sunscreen

The mineral sunscreens below are broad spectrum, protect and nourish your skin, and are safe for our oceans and all that dwell within them. Cover up as much as you can, and apply sunscreen as necessary. Read the label. A good sunscreen’s active ingredients will be either non-nano zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Look at the botanicals and antioxidants in the non-active ingredients and choose your favorites to nourish your skin while protecting it from the sun.

The ultimate guide to the best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

Stream2Sea

Stream2Sea is crazy for coral and committed to enhancing the health of our oceans with an extensive range of marine-friendly sunscreen and personal care products. Fellow scuba woman, Autumn Blum, founded Stream2Sea in 2015 after observing the slick of sunscreen swimmers left behind. Committed to enhancing the health of our oceans, Stream2Sea was born.

Stream2Sea sunscreen’s active ingredient is non-nano titanium dioxide, offering protection from UVA and UVB rays. Non-active ingredients include green tea, tulsi, wakame, aloe, coconut oil, and olive leaf. Their sunscreen absorbs quickly, isn’t greasy, and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Stream2Sea sunscreens are vegan and are kind to you, your skin, and the sea.

An eco-friendly business, Stream2Sea has a sustainable business model with a positive environmental impact. Creating their sunscreen tubes from sugar cane waste is a stroke of sustainability. Stream2Sea’s packaging is fully recyclable and eco-friendly.  Stream2Sea products have been tested and proven safe for our reefs, marine life, and coral larvae.

Body Care Banner

Stream2Sea’s Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 is  HEL Labs Protect Land + Sea certified.

Purchasing within in Australia? Visit reefdiva.com.au.

Raw Love

Raw Love is proud to be Hawaii’s first FDA-compliant sunscreen company. Jenna Davis, Raw Love’s founder, dive master, and snuba instructor, wanted a sunscreen to protect her sensitive skin, tattoos, and the ocean environment. With a background in marine biology and ocean conservation, Jenna used her knowledge to create a reef-safe, broad spectrum sunscreen made from organic natural products.

Raw Love’s active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, known for its skin healing properties. Raw Love’s luxurious nonactive cold-pressed ingredients include organic and plant-based unrefined coconut oil, raw shea butter, sesame oil, beeswax, jojoba oil, vitamin E oil, carrot seed oil, pure essential oils: lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus. Raw Love is a biodegradable and zero-waste sunscreen. A sunscreen that is perfect for scuba women with sensetive skin or tatoos.

Raw Love sunscreen goes on white, turning transparent when rubbed into the skin; a little goes a long way. I love Raw Love’s retro vibe and sultry tatooed mermaid on their recyclable/reusable tin.

Raw Love protects outdoor enthusiasts from the Hawaiian sun while nourishing and moisturizing their skin. Raw Love is safe for both the reef and people.

TotLogic

Totlogics founder Jill Taft’s mission is to spread “the benefits of using non-toxic products that make sense.” As a scuba woman, I am impressed Jill’s first scuba dive was on the beautiful but potentially dangerous Blue Hole in Dahab. Still passionate about scuba, Jill promises to keep her products “pure, simple and authentic.”

Totlogics SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock is a broad spectrum sunscreen; its active ingredient, non-nano zinc oxide, is a known skin protectant. As a diver, I appreciate its thicker consistency and the 80 minutes of protection it provides me in the water. TotLogic Sunscreen is eco-friendly, reef safe, non-toxic, and biodegradable.

TotLogic is ideal for scuba women with sensitive skin, it can be worn daily under make-up, with a rich ingredient list including antioxidants of arnica and white tea, chamomile, and lavender, with hyaluronic acid, aloe, and jojoba both protecting and nourishing your skin. It is vegan-safe, cruelty-free, and non-nano. TotLogic is rated as a tear-free sunscreen and may be used on children as young as 6 months.

TotLogic Reef Safe Natural Sunscreen is rated #1 on EWG (Environmental Working Group).

Raw Elements

Discovering how harmful sunscreens were to people and marine life was the motivation that inspired Raw Elements. Founder and ocean lifeguard Brian Guadagno wanted to create a sunscreen both safe for ocean lovers and the ocean. Raw Elements is part of a brilliant initiative installing touch-free Mineral Sunscreen dispensers throughout the State of Rhode Island. I would be thrilled to see this initiative on the beaches in Australia.

The active ingredient in Raw Elements sunscreen is biodegradable non-nano zinc oxide. Broad spectrum and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes Raw Elements is a good choice for the eco-conscious scuba woman. It can even be applied under water. All other ingredients are certified natural or organic, it is hypoallergenic, fragrance and preservative free, offering protection from sun, salt and wind.

Zero waste and plastic-free packaging Raw Elements is packaged in a recyclable/reusable tin or in bio-resin tubes.

Hands holding a glass globe with a butterfly
OCEAN SAVIOURS WORLD REEF DAY

Raw Elements also founded World Reef Day in 2019. A yearly event, World Reef Day, helps raise awareness of the fragility of our ocean ecosystems. World Reef Day is a day when many ocean champions come together to find ways to protect our at-risk oceans and reefs.

Raw Elements Sunscreen is rated #1 on EWG (Environmental Working Group).

Badger

Badger is a family-run business and a safe sunscreen pioneer. Badger continues refining their formulas, always striving to create healthy, healing products. When EWG (Environmental Working Group) first published a guide to safe sunscreens, Badger ranked at the top. Their manufacturing process is powered by solar, and their non-active ingredients are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, plant-based, and certified cruelty free.

Badger keeps their sunscreen components clean and straightforward, with uncoated zinc oxide as its active ingredient. Organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, jojoba, and sunflower vitamin E enrich their waterless formula, making their reef-safe sunscreen rich in antioxidants. Badger sunscreens are packaged in a recyclable/reusable tin or 50% PCR tubes.

A certified B corporation Badger carries the Protect Land and Sea certification and is rated #1 EWG (Environmental Working Group).

SunButter

Sacha Guggenheimer and Tom Hiney were working and diving with whale sharks on the stunning Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, when they first had concerns about the sunscreen they were using. Essential in the harsh Western Australian sun, Sarah & Tom were aware of the potential harmful impacts regular sunscreen was doing on the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo reef.

SunButter was initially handmade for the smaller community and has now expanded to become Australia’s “first reef safe sunscreen packaged in reusable and recyclable tins and Australia’s first vegan surf zinc.”

SunButter’s active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide; all plant-based, nonactive ingredients are sustainably sourced and palm oil free. SunButter is plastic-free; the non-aqueous solution means your sunscreen goes further and lasts longer. SPF50 SunButter is perfect for Australian conditions and water resistant for four hours. SunButter can be worn under make-up and is excellent for sensitive skin.

An all-around good company, SunButter products are made in Australia in a solar-powered factory and are carbon neutral. Sunbutter gives back 50% of their profits to help save the planet. SunButter also supports Living Culture’s brilliant initiative, educating “people about the importance of keeping Aboriginal culture alive.”

SunButter is approved and registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and also has a range of natural skin care products.

My mission as a senior scuba woman is to help women dive confidently and make informed eco-conscious choices as they conduct their lives. Living sustainably and not damaging our environment should be straightforward and easy. A reef safe sunscreen is at the top of my list.

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Published by emptynestdiver

Learning to dive in my fifties has been a great adventure, I am a senior scuba diver but young at heart.

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