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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Vegan, Reef Safe Sunscreen

vegan natural reef safe sunscreens

Figuring out a non-toxic, cruelty-free and reef-safe sunscreen is harder than it sounds. If you’ve ever searched the topic online, you’ve likely been bombarded with strong opinions about what makes a good sun protectant.

In some hippy circles, people actually warn against sunscreen, calling it unnatural and dangerous. We’ve even seen a recommendation to use coconut oil as a sole protectant. (FYI–while there’s room for debate on the perfect sunscreen, we can definitely confirm that slathering on coconut oil before you go out for the day is not sufficient!)

In light of this predicament, we put together an ultimate guide to selecting your new favorite sunscreen. Stick around till the end of the article to see our top picks for each skin type.

Sun Protection 101

Before getting into our recommendations, let’s explore the basics of sun protection. You’ve probably heard the following terms a million times, but we’re going to dig in on their meaning:

UVA AND UVB

Vegan sunscreen uva and uvb

These two acronyms refer to the ultraviolet light produced by the sun. Though invisible to our eyes, this energy has a substantial effect on our skin. While the two types of UV radiation affect our skin in different ways, both can be detrimental.

UVA (Ultraviolet A) has longer wavelengths and can cause skin aging, damage, and cancer. UVB (Ultraviolet B) has a shorter wavelength and is the primary offender behind sunburns, but it can also cause skin damage and cancer.

SPF

SPF refers to a sunscreen’s “sun protection factor.” Essentially, SPF measures how well a sunscreen can block UV radiation from harming your skin. The number attached to the SPF, such as SPF 30, indicates how long the sunscreen can (in theory) protect your skin from reddening. When used properly, an SPF 30 should keep your skin from burning for 30 times longer than if you used no sunscreen.

Broad-Spectrum

A broad-spectrum sunscreen is one that protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. How Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?

How Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?

Black ribbon skin cancer awareness

Using sunscreen daily is one of the most important things you can do to shield your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends at least an SPF 15 for ideal protection. If you’re going to be outside for an extended period, consider bumping it up to an SPF 30 or higher.

Remember to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day, especially when sweating or swimming. If you slap on some sunscreen at the beginning of a beach day and leave the rest of the bottle at home, you won’t be protected for long.

Besides using sunscreen consistently, be thoughtful about how much you actually expose your skin to the sun. If it’s between the hot hours of 10am and 3pm, stick to the shade as much as possible. Wear protective clothing and don’t forget your hat.

It’s easier to prevent a sunburn than heal the consequences of one. Resist the urge to tan, especially in a tanning bed. If you really want that golden glow, look into vegan, sunless tanning products. Tanning lotions have come a long way and we promise that with a quality product, you won’t turn orange!

Our last tip is to stay conscious of your own skin. Scan your body once a month and monitor any moles or birthmarks that change in size or color. Develop a relationship with a dermatologist who can do a professional exam at least once a year.

The Toxic Relationship Between Sunscreen and the Sea

Coral bleaching caused by sunscreens
Coral bleaching in Indonesia

One more critical factor to consider when selecting a sunscreen is the effect on our treasured sea life. As we know, our sunscreen doesn’t simply remain on our skin when we go for a dip. According to The Ocean Foundation, there’s approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen deposited in the oceans every year.

Unfortunately, recent studies suggest that common sunscreen ingredients cause irreparable damage to coral reefs. The chemicals that do a solid job of blocking rays from burning our skin end up bleaching and destroying corals.

With our coral reefs already being threatened by overfishing, climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution, the last thing they need is an invasion of chemicals. The main culprits are oxybenzone and octinoxate. A 2015 study showed that oxybenzone can severely damage corals at a concentration as low as the equivalent of one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It’s not just the coral reefs affected by our sunscreen. Algae, mussels, sea urchins, fish, and dolphins have all been impaired by the chemicals. The good news is that eco-savvy manufacturers now develop sunscreens free of these risky ingredients.

Our Favorite Sunscreens by Skin Type

Now that you’re fully armed with all this sunscreen knowledge, you can make an informed decision with your next purchase. To make that process easier, we compiled a list of our top picks for each skin type. All of these products are vegan, non-toxic, and reef-safe. (it took a lot of research and testing!)

  • For Sensitive Skin: Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30

For sensitive skin, you can’t beat this hypo-allergenic sunscreen. If your skin tends to break out, you’re probably (understandably!) wary of trying a new product. Sensitive skin, whether from acne, allergies, or rosacea, needs to be handled with care.

This sunscreen is fragrance-free, zinc-based, and uses certified organic, moisturizing oils. It’s non-greasy and absorbs quickly instead of sitting heavy on delicate skin.

  • For Dry Skin: Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 45

People with dry skin need a sunscreen that packs a powerful moisturizing punch. This lotion provides exactly that. With aloe vera, green tea, and palm kernel oil, this non-greasy sunscreen nourishes the skin.

In addition to being a certified cruelty-free brand, Alba Botanica uses sustainable palm oil.

  • For At-Risk Skin: SunBum Original Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

If you have melasma, very fair skin, or a history of skin cancer, you’ll want a sunscreen that offers extra protection. SunBum’s lotion, with a seal of recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation, is our favorite for this. With proper application, it’s water-resistant for 80 minutes.

This lotion also utilizes Vitamin E to neutralize free radicals, which are the leading cause of premature skin aging. Bonus, right?

  • For Darker Skin Tones: Skinnies Sungel SPF 30

As they say perfectly on their website, “We get it, typical sunscreens suck. They are white, greasy, sting your eyes & take ages to dry. Not anymore. Introducing Skinnies.”

Our favorite thing about this innovative product is that it uses zero water. Besides saving water, this also means that the gel is not diluted and stays on your skin for longer. With only a pea-sized amount, you can protect your face, neck, and ears.

Have you tried one of these sunscreens? If so, drop a comment and let us know what you think!

Patricia Maroday

Hi I'm Patricia. Vegan. Blogger. Marketer. Wife. Lazy cook. Soccer mom to a son who thinks I am a vegan scientist. I just want to encourage people to try out the vegan lifestyle their way and making a global impact together. Join my movement!

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