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Why reef-safe sunscreens matter (and what ingredients to avoid)

Sun protection is super important (especially here in Australia), and so is protecting our coral reefs! Applying a reef-safe sunscreen that’s free from harmful substances before you head into the water not only protects you from the harsh Aussie sun, but it will reduce the number of chemicals harming our sea life.

Ever been at the beach and noticed that ‘oil slick’ effect around swimmers? This residue is usually caused by sunscreen and other products on our skin.

It is estimated that around 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen chemicals are washed off swimmers and end up in our oceans each year. Some chemicals found in sunscreens are not only harmful to our personal health but also have a detrimental effect on reef ecosystems and marine life; they damage our delicate coral reefs, cause deformities in marine life and they can bioaccumulate, meaning they end up in the seafood we eat.

Sunscreen damage to oceansImage: National Ocean Service


How to choose a reef-safe sunscreen

The term ‘reef-safe’ and 'reef-friendly' is not regulated, so it’s important to look at ingredients rather than blindly trust labels.

Look for a sunscreen that contain Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide. These minerals physically block the sun's rays and are not harmful to reefs, are biodegradable and hypo-allergenic.

You should avoid the following ingredients which have been shown to harm our oceans: 

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or 'nano-sized' zinc or titanium

It’s also worth adding that this doesn’t just apply to sunscreens - we should all take care to make sure any other personal care products we wear in the water are free of these ingredients.

We stock a range of reef-safe sunscreens which offer excellent protection in and out of the water! Our favourite plastic-free packaged, reef-safe sunscreens are;

SunButter SPF50 Water Resistant Sunscreen

SunButter is a natural SPF50 sunscreen made with certified sustainable ingredients and broad-spectrum UVA and UVB mineral blocker zinc oxide which rubs in clear and offers 4 hours of water-resistant protection. It has superior restorative and nurturing qualities and is suitable for all skin types (even sensitive skin) and all ages including babies. It doesn't contain nanoparticles and will leave your skin feeling soft, smooth, and protected from the elements. This sunscreen comes in a decent sized 100g recyclable or reusable tin, is vegan, cruelty-free and listed with the TGA. SunButter practice what they preach - 10% of profits go to protecting our planet and their sunscreen is made right here, in Australia in a solar-powered factory - cool huh?


SurfMud Natural Zinc

Know for being one of the best surfers zincs on the market, SurfMud is made by surfers for ocean lovers! The unique formula is long-lasting, water-resistant and won’t run into your eyes in the water. SurfMud is a thick paste with a dark tint which leaves a bronzed appearance on the skin. It's best applied in streaks on the face then blended in. This sunscreen may rub-off on lighter coloured clothes so is best for use when wearing swimwear. SurfMud comes in a handy 45g recyclable tin that’s also water-tight, meaning you can take it with you into the water.

SurfMud Tinted Sunscreen SurfMud

Sun & Earth SPF 30 Natural Zinc Tinted All Day Cream

We love Sun & Earth Natural Zinc SPF 30 as it’s made with natural zinc oxide and beeswax to create a physical barrier against the sun. It’s available in 3 tints to suit a variety of skin tones - Light, Tan and Cocoa (which can also be combined to match your own skin tone) and is suitable for all skin types including sensitive skin. It can be worn as a foundation and gives a subtle tinted appearance. If you plan on using this sunscreen in colder climates, warm a little sunscreen in your hands to soften the beeswax first, then apply it. Sun & Earth Zinc use cold pressed certified organic oils in their sunscreens which give it an amazing scent. This tinted sunscreen comes in a 50g plastic-free recyclable tin. 

Sun & Earth Zinc Sun & Earth Zinc

Other ways to protect your skin from the sun

Even heavy use of reef-safe sunscreens can have an effect on our oceans, so it’s a good idea to cover up with a rashie and hat wherever possible in the water and only apply your reef-safe sunscreen to exposed areas. This is particularly important if you’re in areas with a lot of swimmers where there may be a lot of sunscreens accumulating in the water.

And of course, avoiding sun exposure during peak UV times is the best way to stay protected. You can monitor the UV in your local area through your local weather bureau. Remember to always stay sun safe friends!


References: SurfRider Foundation

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