Protect yourself, protect our oceans: Reef Safe Sunscreens

When it comes to sun protection, more is always more — especially here in Australia where approximately two out of three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70 (1).

But, before you get slopping on that SPF50, have you ever considered what nasty chemicals might be hiding in your sunscreen, causing damage to not only your own health but the health of our planet? Research in recent years has revealed a very frightening truth: some of the most common chemicals used in sunscreens have been wreaking havoc on our ocean habitat and marine life — especially our coral reefs.

In 2015, it was estimated that around 14,000 tons of sunscreen are ending up in the world’s coral reefs per year and causing irreparable damage (2). Coral bleaching had affected more than 60 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, while a staggering 90 percent of the reefs in the Caribbean are estimated to have disappeared since 1980.

According to the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (3), the main ingredients causing all this damage are called oxybenzone and octinoxate. When exposed to these nasty chemicals, coral larvae becomes deformed and unable to spread through ocean currents. They also reduce coral’s defence against bleaching - which is a primary killer of reefs worldwide.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first US State to ban sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate from being worn or sold (4). And as of just this month here in the pacific, Palau has become the first country to ban sunscreens containing any one of 10 potentially harmful ingredients.

So, what can you do to keep yourself safe from damaging sun rays, without damaging our planet?

First and foremost: if you truly want to reduce the negative impact sunscreen has on reefs and marine life and to protect your skin, it’s important to remember that sun protection is about more than just sunscreen. Invest in good sunwear and sun accessories, like UV protective clothing, rash guards, and hats, and reduce the amount of topical sunscreen you need to apply. When choosing sunscreen, avoid oxybenzone (the most common compound found in some 3,500 sunscreens worldwide) and octinoxate (which is even more toxic than oxybenzone, but usually found in lower concentrations).

Thankfully, the options for environmentally-friendly sunscreen are growing every day. Look for physical barrier sunscreens (in cream, not spray) with active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide, both of which are biodegradable. Here are just a few of our favourites:

Invisible Zinc Sheer Defence Moisturiser SPF 50

One of the OG mineral sunscreens here in Australia, Invisible Zinc has dispelled many of our longstanding ideas around zinc as sun protection (hello, fluro nose stripe!) with it’s lightweight and easily absorbed formula. The brand also offers tinted options (in light and medium) for extra coverage as well as body and sport products. Find it here >

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Lotion SPF50

This physical barrier sunscreen is super affordable, and comes recommended by the Eczema Association of Australasia. Find it here >

Sukin SPF30 Sheer Touch Facial Sunscreen

Sukin is one of our favourite affordable skincare brands, and this sheer facial sunscreen does not disappoint! Offering a physical barrier with slight tint, the zinc based formula also includes an antioxidant rich blend of rosehip oil, green tea and cucumber to moisturise your skin. Find it here >

Ocean Australia SPF 50+ Face Sunscreen

Reef friendly, ethically produced and Aussie made – what more could you ask for? Ocean Australia's SPF 50+ range has easily absorbed and richly hydrating options for your face and body, and conveniently offers a kid’s version too. Find it here >

Moo Goo Natural Sunscreen SPF 40

Saviour brand for us sensitive skin types, Moo Goo’s natural sunscreen is moisturising yet non-greasy, and can be used on your face and body. This one takes a little longer to soak in to the skin, but it is definitely worth the wait. Find it here >


  1. Types of skin cancer, Cancer Council, Australia
  2. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Springer Link, October 2015
  3. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Springer Link, October 2015
  4. Why Is Hawaii Banning Sunscreen? Scientific American, Everyday Einstein Sabrina Stierwalt, June 2018

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