In Search of Vegan Reef Safe Sunscreen

UPDATED ON August 4th, 2021

Vegan Reef Safe Sunscreen

Many vegan sunscreens are not considered reef-safe because they contain chemicals now known to damage marine life. And, many reef-safe sunscreens are not vegan. They may contain non-vegan ingredients like lactoperoxidase (derived from milk) and beeswax.

Partially updated August 4, 2021.

Feel free to jump down to a list of vegan, cruelty-free, reef-safe sunscreens. Or keep reading to learn about newly restricted sunscreen ingredients, nanoparticles, and more.

New Legislation Bans Certain Sunscreen Ingredients

If you haven’t heard, Palau, an island country in the western Pacific Ocean, is set to be the first country to ban the sale and use of sunscreens that contain certain chemicals known to cause damage to marine life and coral. The ban is part of Palau’s Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018, which President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. recently signed into law, and which will take effect in 2020.

Palau is home to many natural wonders popular with tourists. One such wonder is UNESCO World Heritage site Jellyfish Lake, a marine lake protected by an ancient Miocine reef. In 2017, the Coral Reef Research Foundation found widespread sunscreen toxins in not only the water but also the jellyfish of the lake.

Other areas like Hawaii, Mexico, and Bonaire have also introduced sunscreen regulations, but Palau’s bill restricts the use of more chemicals than previous legislation.

Reef-Toxic Chemicals

These are the ten reef-toxic chemicals found in sunscreens, sunblocks, and skincare listed in Palau’s new bill. I have added them to the Double Check Vegan ingredient search engine so that if a user inputs a list of ingredients containing these, even if the chemical is technically vegan, the user will see the phrase “Vegan but…,” and a warning about this problem.

  • Oxybenzone (BP3)
  • Octyl Methoxycinnamate (EHMC) also known as Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene (OC)
  • 4-methylbenzylidine camphor (4MBC)
  • Triclosan
  • Methyl Paraben
  • Ethyl Paraben
  • Butyl Paraben
  • Benzyl Paraben
  • Phenoxythanol

Reef Safe Habits

According to the United States National Parks Service, 4,000 – 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter reefs every year. Before we get to the most reef safe sunscreens, it’s important to realize that less residue from skincare products in general is better than anything. The Coral Reef Research Foundation’s 2017 report included these recommendations for preventing the environmental harm caused by chemicals in sunscreen.

  • Wear as much protective clothing as possible to minimize the need for any sunscreen.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
  • Then, use eco-friendly products.

Reef Safe Ingredients

Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide are two mineral ingredients that have not been found harmful to coral reefs. When you have to wear sunscreen in the water, sunscreens with these ingredients are better than ones that use the ingredients on the restricted list above.

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreens

Sunscreens that use Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide are sometimes referred to as mineral sunscreens or physical sunscreens. They sit on your skin and act as a physical barrier, reflecting UV rays away. Sunscreens that use chemicals like the ones restricted in Palau’s new law, are often referred to as chemical sunscreens. These chemicals act as a filter, absorbing UV rays so your skin doesn’t have to. However, not only do these chemicals effect marine life, research has shown that some of these chemicals may effect human sperm quality, be associated with endometriosis, and end up present in breast milk.

The mineral sunscreens listed here are safer for the environment and your health, but since they sit on the skin, you may need to reapply mineral sunscreens more often! Keep this in mind to avoid getting burned.

Nano or Non-Nano?

Sometimes you’ll see Titanium Oxide or Zinc Oxide in an ingredients list followed by “(nano)” or “(non-nano)” or nothing at all. This refers to the size of the particles in the ingredient. Non-nanoparticles are generally bigger than 100 nanometers, while nano particles are smaller.

Sunscreens with the smaller nanoparticles are popular because they are small enough for the skin to absorb and therefore don’t leave as much visible residue on top. And, research so far has not found any negative effects on humans from absorbing these particular nanoparticles. However, since we don’t know for certain whether these mineral chemicals are 100% safe for coral reefs in the longterm, non-nanoparticles may be better simply because they won’t be ingested by reefs. In the following list, I’ve indicated whether a sunscreen uses nano or non-nano particles when that information is available.

This post contains affiliate links.

List of Cruelty-Free, Vegan Reef Safe Sunscreen and Other Skincare Products

All Good Sport Reef Safe Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

All Good Vegan Reef Safe Sunscreen

  • Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 16% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free
  • The sunscreen spray version is also vegan but the butter and butter sticks are not.

All Good SPF 30 Kid’s Reef Safe Sunscreen Lotion

All Good Reef Safe Vegan Sunscreen

  • Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 16% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free
  • The sunscreen spray version is also vegan but the butter and butter sticks are not.
  • The difference between this kids’ version and the adult version above is that the kids’ version also has calendula and chamomile, and sunflower oil is used instead of jojoba oil.

Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen for babies, kids, and sensitive skin

  • Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 12% (Non-nano)
  • Vegan and PETA certified cruelty-free
  • Fragrance Free

MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 28

MyChelle Reef Safe Vegan Sun Shield

  • Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 11.6% (ZinClear™), Titanium Dioxide .67% (Non-nanoparticles)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free

MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 30 Non-Aerosol Spray

MyChelle Reef Safe Vegan Sunblock

  • Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 12% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free

MyChelle Sun Shield Liquid SPF 50

MyChelle Sun Shield - Vegan Reef Safe Sunscreen

  • Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide – 20.5% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free

Deter Natural Mineral Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30

Deter natural mineral vegan reef-safe sunscreen

  • Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 6%, Zinc Oxide 6% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free

The Honest Company SPF 30 Reef Safe Sunscreen Spray

Honest Sunscreen Spray Vegan Reef Safe

  • Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide – 12% (Non-nanoparticle)
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free
  • Their sunscreen lotion is also vegan but the sunscreen sticks are not.

COOLA Mineral Sport SPF 30 Citrus Mimosa Moisturizer

Coola Sport Sunscreen Vegan Reef Safe

  • Active ingredients: Titanium Dioxide – 4.8%, Zinc Oxide – 3.1%
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free

What do you think?

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    June 5, 2019

    Let it Block is also a Vegan, cruelty free, and reef friendly sunscreen!

  • Elizabeth
    June 12, 2019

    Hi! love this list of vegan reef safe sunscreens! I was wondering if you would continue to update the list because I found that goddess gardens organic sunscreen is reef safe and vegan!

  • Natalie Chronister
    November 18, 2019

    Thank you so much for doing the research!