If you've been hearing a lot of buzz about "reef-safe" sunscreen lately, you might be wondering if this is something you need to add to your summer shopping list (and if so, why?). Since Hawaii's recent ban on sunscreens containing chemicals that are destroying coral reefs, even concerned beachgoers who don't live in the Aloha State are switching to sunblocks that use natural ingredients to block UV rays — partly because the same chemicals that are harming the reefs can hurt humans, too. So what are the best reef-safe sunscreens out there?
What makes a sunscreen reef-safe is the absence of the chemicals oxybenzone and/or octinoxate, which have been shown to cause "bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and ultimately death" in coral reefs, according to CNN. Yes, oxybenzone and octinoxate are used in sunscreens in the first place because they work well to protect the skin. Still, there are other, all-natural ingredients that can do the job without destroying marine life, like those in mineral sunscreens. (The all-natural sunscreens aren't harmful to human life, either, whereas oxybenzone also causes damage to DNA which can lead to cancer and developmental abnormalities.) While chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, which is then released through the skin, mineral sunscreens contain tiny zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles that sit on top of your skin to deflect UV rays.
“Mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are as effective as chemical sunscreens,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, told WomensHealthMag.com.
If mineral sunscreens work, there's really no reason to use the stuff that's killing the coral reefs, is there? Especially now that it's easier than ever to find reef-safe sunscreens. These are some of the best-selling, highest-rated options available (for more suggestions, check out the Environmental Working Group's 2018 guide to safe sunscreens).