Guide To Reef Safe Sunscreens & Sun Safety

Mahalo For Sharing Your Aloha

Which Coral Safe, Reef Safe Sunscreen To Buy? To make your life easy and save you time, this Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion  is the top-ranked, by a world-wide independent organization, Environmental Working Group, specializing in chemical safety for consumers and the environment.

Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion – Safe, convenient, easy-to apply, reef safe Clear Zinc SPF 30 Sunscreen provides 80 minutes water and sweat resistance. Perfect for a day at the field, park or beach. Rated a #1 in Safety on EWG, 100% Non-Nano Zinc Sunscreen, UVA/UVB protection. 80 Minutes Water & Sweat Resistant. For Face, Lips, Nose and Ears, Non-greasy, Glide-on application rubs in easily, Moisturizes & Protects with Certified Organic Oils including jojoba. Hypoallergenic and Lightweight, Dairy and Soy Free, Perfect for Super Sensitive Skin, Fragrance Free

OK, now that you have that, on with the full details.


Hawaii Bans Certain (Well, Most) Sunscreens. In July 2018 Hawaii governor David Ige signed a bill that prohibits the sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate throughout the Islands, starting in 2021.  The bill aims to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs from oxybenzone and octinoxate, which scientific studies suggest contributes to coral bleaching. If you are visiting the Islands (that means all nine million annual visitors to Hawaii), please be sure to buy coral safe sunscreen before you go in the ocean.


Just What Is Coral Bleaching? A quick overview of how coral bleaching was discovered. In 2005, Craig Downs, Ph.D., a forensic ecotoxicologist in Virginia was asked by National Park Service to determine what was killing all the coral reefs around Trunk Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Downs, who is the executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, went with researchers to discover the cause. All their scientific efforts were for naught until  a local Rastafarian overheard their conversation and said, “It’s the tourists.”  Downs determined that between 2,000 to 5,000 people visited the beach and after they left there was an ‘iridescent sheen’ on the water.  Downs discovered that chemicals in sunscreen used by snorkelers, divers, and beachgoers had washed off in the water and was damaging the coral reef.

In short, Hawaii is banning oxybenzone and octinoxate because your sunscreen was contaminating the ocean and killing coral.


Too Macho For Coral Safe Sunscreen? If you are a teenage boy who is ‘too macho’ to use reef safe sunscreen, know this, in a recent evaluation of CDC-collected exposure data for American children, researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels (Scinicariello 2016).

Top-Rated EWG Sunscreen Products To Buy

Note these sunscreens are recommended by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion – Safe, convenient, easy-to apply Clear Zinc SPF 30 Sunscreen provides 80 minutes water and sweat resistance. Perfect for a day at the field, park or beach. Rated a #1 in Safety on EWG, 100% Non-Nano Zinc Sunscreen, UVA/UVB protection. 80 Minutes Water & Sweat Resistant. For Face, Lips, Nose and Ears, Non-greasy, Glide-on application rubs in easily, Moisturizes & Protects with Certified Organic Oils including jojoba. Hypoallergenic and Lightweight, Dairy and Soy Free, Perfect for Super Sensitive Skin, Fragrance Free

Raw Elements Sunscreen – Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Natural Sunscreen | Non Nano Zinc Oxide 95% Organic, Very Water Resistant, Reef Safe, Non GMO, Cruelty Free, SPF 30 Reusable Tin 3oz One of EWG’s top rated sunscreens, all natural, soy, gluten and nut free with certified organic ingredients and physical broad spectrum protection.
Extremely versatile, large coverage area sunscreen that is safe for face and body, gentle enough for children and provides extra protection against wind and salt.
Raw Elements Face + Body contains 97% certified organic ingredients and 100% certified natural ingredients so hydrating that it doubles as a great organic moisturizer.
Packed with biologically active antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, your skin stays protected long after environmental exposure.
Raw Elements formulas are very water resistant (up to 80 minutes), reef safe and biodegradable, allowing you to adventure without worry that the product will run or sting your eyes

All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion – New & Improved Formula. SPF 30 UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection. 80 Minute Water Resistant. Lightweight formula that’s not greasy
Organic green tea, rose hips and buriti oil for repairing damaged skin Oxbenzone Free – Gluten Free – Vegan – Non-Nano – Biodegradeable Coral Reef Friendly

You can also try sun protective clothing for men and sun protective clothing for women.

Sunscreen Ingredients To Look For: First things first… the term ‘reef safe’ isn’t currently a regulated term and has an unclear definition. With that preface, here are factors for your consideration:

The HEL LIST – Products labeled with the “Protect Land + Sea” Certification Seal means that the product has been laboratory‐tested using analytical‐forensic techniques to verify that the product is free of the chemicals that are on the “HEL LIST.”

What Chemicals are on the HEL List so I know which to avoid? The HEL LIST includes:

  • Any form of microplastic sphere or beads.
  • Any nanoparticles like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methyl Paraben
  • Ethyl Paraben
  • Propyl Paraben
  • Butyl Paraben
  • Benzyl Paraben
  • Triclosan

Other Sunscreen Safety Considerations

  • Minerals – The top one or two ingredients should be non-nano zinc and non-nano titanium dioxide. The reason ‘non-nano’ is used is that nanoparticles are so small they pose a danger for sea creatures that ingest them, like brine shrimp, and in turn that danger can pose up-foodchain dangers for creatures (and us) that eat the creatures that eat the shrimp.
  • No oxybenzone – This common UV-stopping ingredient—a key ingredient in our main sunscreen pick—helps viruses damage coral more quickly, as Danovaro identified in his 2008 paper on reef bleaching.
  • Water resistant – All sunscreens will wash off in water, but the better they are at sticking to your skin, the less of it will wind up in the ocean with the reefs.
  • Use A Lotion, Not A Spray – Each time you use a spray sunscreen at the beach, some ends up on the sand, which in turn ends up in the ocean (I have seen spray damage first hand – Pigaro, our tuxedo cat, was the sprayinator – everything in the house, walls, chairs, guests…). Most good mineral sunscreens are lotions, anyway.
  • Parabens-Free – Parabens are another virus-assisting reef-bleaching culprit. Sunscreens with parabens can be hard to identify, as parabens are often not listed in the ingredients. If a sunscreen advertises aloe or another plant component, it likely contains preservatives needed to keep that plant fresh, so use that as a cautionary ingredient.
  • Free of other harmful ingredients: A small slew of chemicals aren’t great for reefs, compiled by Downs in Haereticus’s HEL List. In addition to oxybenzone and parabens, the list includes octinoxate, octocrylene, triclosan, para-aminobenzoic acid (known as PABA), camphor, and microbeads or other small bits of plastic.

Even More Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid:

Petrolatum – Note the first six letter are p-e-t-r-o-l… Avoid sunscreens containing petrolatum, commonly known as mineral oil. This product can take years to biodegrade and is known to be harmful or fatal to aquatic life and waterfowl.
Titanium Dioxide: Avoid sunscreens with a high content of titanium dioxide. You have seen this sunscreen before.

United States

This mineral does not biodegrade and is found to react in warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life, like Spicoli.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are believed to contribute to coral bleaching.

Protecting Your Children From Sunburn: The CDC offers these suggestions on ‘How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun?’ Here are the sun safety issues from their site:

Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Kids don’t have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors. Read more at the EPA – Health Effects of UV Radiation.

Seek shade. UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday, so it’s best to plan indoor activities then. If this is not possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella, or a pop-up tent. Use these options to prevent sunburn, not to seek relief after it’s happened. A 4* beach umbrella from Amazon is the easiest for most people.

Cover up. When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor.

Get a hat. Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck are easy to use and give great protection. Baseball caps are popular among kids, but they don’t protect their ears and neck. If your child chooses a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen. My wife has me wear the highly stylish, and female-repelling, floppy hat.

Wear sunglasses. They protect your child’s eyes from UV rays, which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible. You can buy a pair of 4* Amazon rated sunglasses that are both UVA and polarized for less than $20.

Apply sunscreen. Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection every time your child goes outside. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet.

Before we start, this is what the US Food and Drug Administration has to say about, “The ABCs of Sun Protection – Tanning Tips.”

The FDA  provides these tips (rules) on sunscreen:

Two Hour Rule: Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.

Time Of Day Rule: Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.

When To Apply Rule: Generally, apply an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside so the product has time to soak into your skin and provide the maximum benefit. You should apply sunscreen everyday, even if it is cloudy.

Choosing A Sunscreen Tips: Sunscreens are made in a wide range of sun protection factors (aka SP). As a general rule, the higher the SPF number, the more protection against sunburn and other skin damage the sunscreen provides. To get the most protection out of sunscreen, choose one with an SPF of at least 15. If your skin is fair, types I to III, you may want a higher minimum SPF of 30 to 50.

The CDC further recommends for adults:

Shade: You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter before you need relief from the sun. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.

Clothing: When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor. If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Hat: For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.

Sunglasses: Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

And, of course, Sunscreen: Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of the exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

When shopping for sunscreen, chose one that is labeled as broad-spectrum because it will help protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Check the sunscreen label for broad-spectrum ingredients such as those listed in the table below.

Examples of Broad-Spectrum Ingredients:  Benzophenones (Oxybenzone), Cinnamates (Octinoxate Cinoxate), Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX), Sulisobenzone, Salicylates, Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide,  Avobenzone (Parsol 1789).

The FDA on How to Apply Sunscreen:

Apply 30 minutes before you go outside. This allows the sunscreen (of SPF 15 or higher) to have enough time to provide the maximum benefit.
Use enough to cover your entire face and body (avoiding the eyes and mouth). An average-sized adult or child needs at least one ounce of sunscreen (about the amount it takes to fill a shot glass) to evenly cover the body from head to toe.

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to these frequently overlooked areas (in case you don’t notice – the below lists specifies any exposed skin areas):

  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Lips
  • Back of neck
  • Hands
  • Tops of feet
  • Along the hairline
  • Areas of the head exposed by balding or thinning hair

Know your skin. Fair-skinned people are likely to absorb more solar energy than dark-skinned people under the same conditions.

Reapply at least every two hours, and more often if you’re swimming or sweating.

What Is BroadSpectrum Sunscreen? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

Why You Want Broad Spectrum Sunscreen: It can protect your skin from the sun’s UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays, which helps prevent:

  • Skin cancer
  • Early skin aging (premature age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin)
  • Sunburn

What Is Waterproof Sunscreen? People should also be aware that no sunscreens are ‘waterproof.’ All sunscreens eventually wash off. Sunscreens labeled ‘water resistant’ are required to be tested according to the required SPF test procedure. The labels are required to state whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, and all sunscreens must provide directions on when to reapply.

What Is Water Resistant Sunscreen? FDA meaning: How long (either 40 or 80 minutes) the sunscreen will stay on wet skin. The sunscreen must undergo testing before it earns the water-resistant designation.

Water resistant – The sunscreen stays effective for 40 minutes in the water. At that time, you’ll need to reapply.

Very water resistant – The sunscreen stays effective for 80 minutes in the water. Yes, after 80 minutes, you’ll need to reapply.

A major consumer magazine Time Magazine reported on the top-rated sunscreens: The deadliest kind of skin cancer has more than doubled since 1982. Still, according to a recent study, most of us don’t wear SPF regularly. Quite simply, while everybody needs more sun protection note every sun tanning lotion will block the sun.

Time found two new reports looked beyond labels and assessed how some sunscreens stacked up against others, as well as whether or not they met their own label claims. Time Magazine reports the six standout sunscreens that, when used properly, have an SPF of at least 30, offer broad-spectrum coverage and have earned accolades from scientists at either Consumer Reports (CR) or the Environmental Working Group (EWG)–or both.

Are The Ingredients In Sunscreens Safe? The answer is, well, we are not sure.  The Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed evidence of potential hazards of sunscreen filters – instead it grandfathered in ingredients used in the late 1970s when it began to consider sunscreen safety. The Danish EPA recently reviewed the safety of active ingredients in sunscreen and concluded that most ingredients lacked information to ensure their safety (Danish EPA 2015). Sixteen of the 19 ingredients studied had no information about their potential to cause cancer. And while the published studies suggest that several chemical filters interact with human sex or thyroid hormones, none of the ingredients had sufficient information to determine the potential risks to humans from hormone disruption.

The Importance of Coral Reefs – Coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on our planet. Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment. This includes approximately 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. It is estimated there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs (Reaka-Kudla, 1997).  Coral reefs may provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year. This is an amazing figure for an environment that covers less than 1 percent of the Earth’s surface. Many new drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses as well as other diseases.

Who Should Be Wearing Sunscreen? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone wear a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on exposed areas of the body every day. Doctors also suggest that you stay in the shade when outdoors and wear appropriate clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

How Do I Treat A Sunburn? All-righty now, if all the above failed and you have a sunburn, this is what you need to do:

  • Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
  • Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  • Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness, and discomfort.
  • Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
  • If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
  • Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.

Mahalo For Sharing Your Aloha
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