Reef-Safe Sunscreens

by Rona Berg

Sunscreen is something most of us turn to daily in order to protect the skin from the damaging UV rays of the sun--even when the sun isn’t shining!

As we move into summer, the sun is shining most of the time, which means it’s more important than ever to rely on SPF 15 for protection around town, and SPF 30 or higher at the beach. (Take note: an SPF higher than 30 may incrementally increase the potential for irritation.) But those of us with sensitive skin understand--and if you have it, you know it!--it’s important to be doubly diligent and not only apply sunscreen daily, but choose the right one, in order to avoid irritation, inflammation, itchiness and discomfort. There’s no sense in creating an additional problem, while you are trying to be vigilant and protect yourself!

For anyone looking for the least interactive sunscreens, it’s important to look for “physical” or “mineral” sunscreens, rather than “chemical sunscreens.” And if your skin is sensitive, this is even more important. Sunscreen chemicals like octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone--and butylparaben--may trigger irritation, and they don’t offer “full-spectrum” protection against UVA and UVB rays, which mineral sunscreens do. They are also harmful to the coral reefs around the world. Every year, the equivalent of about 25 to 60 million bottles of sunscreen wash away into the coral reefs. “Physical” or “mineral” sunscreens list zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as active ingredients and, because they do not contain those chemicals, they are reef-safe--and easier on sensitive skin. 

According to Steven Wang, MD, Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Dermatology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Basking Ridge, NJ, “You should also pay attention to the inactive ingredients. It is key to make sure there’s no perfume or fragrance,” he says. “Pick a sunscreen with as few inactive ingredients as possible, and also make sure there’s no alcohol, which can weaken and strip away the skin’s natural barriers.” Finally, Dr. Wang suggests, “Put a moisturizer or serum on first, before you apply sunscreen. That serves as a protective layer, and if there’s anything irritating in the sunscreen, it will get blocked.” 


Here are some of our new favorites:

Eminence Lilikoi Mineral Defense Moisturizer SPF 33

Vegan, gluten-free and absolutely yummy, with lilikoi (passion fruit) seed oil, satsuma mandarin peel extract to minimize the look of hypersensitivity, and larch tree to moisturize, this is one you’ll want to try. 

Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick SPF 30

A handy little purse-friendly stick for face, lips, nose, ears and everywhere in between, it is also fragrance-free, gluten-free  and water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes. 

Nelly Devuyst Cream Sunscreen Natural Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 30

This pump-top bottle dispenses just the right amount of this lovely cream, with no waste. With organic aloe leaf, antioxidant rooibis extract and nourishing coconut oil, it protects for 80 minutes of sweating and swimming.

Badger Unscented Broad Spectrum SPF 35

Non-whitening, non-GMO and tenacious enough to stay on and provide coverage while hiking, running, or playing beach volleyball, it is also water-resistant for 80 minutes. 

Kari Gran Three Sixty Five SPF 28

Designed for use 365 days of the year, this lovely sunscreen is loaded with moisturizing nut and seed oils (macadamia nut, kukui, jojoba, plum, red raspberry), and hydrating avocado oil to keep skin glowing.

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