Sunscreens - Sailors for the Sea


When you go swimming, your sunscreen can wash off into the water, and some have chemicals that can harm marine wildlife. Learn about our top choices for eco-friendly SPF products.

Join Our Green Boating Community

Before you hit the high seas, you may be wondering what type of sunscreen to buy to protect your skin from the sun’s powerful rays. Did you know that some SPF products are harmful not only for you, but also the environment? Some sunscreens contain chemical additives, such as oxybenzone, that can be toxic when they wash off in the ocean and have been reported to contribute to coral bleaching, damage coral larvae and disrupt the development of fish.

sunscreen, SPF, sun bathing

Sunscreens can protect you by a physical or chemical barrier. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are small particles that form a physical barrier that scatters damaging UV rays away from your skin. Chemical sunscreens including ones that contain oxybenzone, absorb UV rays, preventing them from penetrating the skin.

Check the ingredients in your sunscreen. You want to avoid products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, and look for ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (micro, not nanoparticles), as these are less toxic to your health and the environment. Give any sunscreen you put on your skin enough time to absorb before entering the water. Also, consider wearing sun-protection clothing. You won’t have to worry about sunscreen ending up in the water and you never need to reapply!

The sunscreens on our list are reef-safe and protect against UVA and UVB rays, with the top three coming in plastic-free containers:

1. Avasol – Surfer’s Barrier Stick SPF 30

2. Raw Elements – Face + Body Tin SPF 30

3. Badger – Adventure Sport Mineral Sunscreen Tin – SPF 50

4. Stream2Sea Sunscreen for Body SPF 30

Some companies and stores provide an option to refill your sunscreen. Once you’ve finished your current bottle or tin of sunscreen, bring it with you to your local zero waste store to fill. Most stores also have glass or metal options for purchase, so you can start fresh without using plastic!

Did you know?

  • Plant-based oils, like lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus, which are sometimes added to sunscreens as natural insecticides, may kill delicate coral cells (Dr Craig Downs, Haereticus Environmental Laboratory).

Watch Now

Learn more about ocean-safe sunscreen and other Green Boating topics in our video series.