The best sea-safe suncreens that won’t cause damage to the ocean

We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the impact our actions have on the environment. From ditching plastic straws to investing in re-usable coffee cups and water bottles, there are many small ways to help.

The latest is by reading up on how your sunscreen can potentially harm life underwater, and shopping for alternatives. Here’s what you need to know about sea-safe sun creams…

sea-safe suncreens
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What is the problem with my usual sun cream?

Traditional sunscreens many of us have used for years contain chemicals that protect our skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Chemical sunscreens use ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone, and absorb UV rays before converting them (usually into infrared rays). Natural alternatives such as mineral sunscreens act as physical blocks to UV rays, deflecting them using ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

What’s the case for using sea-safe sunscreen?

Unfortunately, while chemical sunscreens are reliable and effective, most contain two ingredients (oxybenzone and octinoxate), which can damage the algae in oceans, causing harm to coral and wider marine life. Hawaii has even banned the sale of sunscreens with these two chemicals, as they are so potentially harmful to our underwater eco-systems. Caudalie found that 14,000 tons of sun cream end up in coral reefs every year, making this a very real threat.

This is where marine-friendly formulas (without those two particular components) come in handy; they instead use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect the skin from UV rays, making them reef-safe, meaning that they will not harm coral and underwater eco-systems.

What should you look for on the bottle when buying sea-safe sun cream?

‘The two main ingredients that damage corals are oxybenzone and octinoxate, these are the two ingredients you should avoid in your sun screen when looking for a reef-safe option,’ said Oliver Paris, Education Director at Caudalie.

‘Also, there are some filters that are not recommended for the skin such as nano particles, octocrylene or octinoxate – you should be avoiding these too although they don’t have an impact in corals, but they do in the skin.’

David Delport, Global Ambassador and Head of Education at Ren Clean Skincare, added that it should be ‘cruelty free, and you’ll usually see either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active SPF ingredient. I would also make sure the container is recyclable.’

sea-safe sun cream
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Are there any limitations of using these alternative sun creams?

Historically, alternative formulas have been known to give excellent protection from UVB rays (that cause initial sunburn) but not UVA rays (which penetrate the skin deeper and cause longer term damage). However, increasingly, brands are targeting this problem and developing formulas with a wider range of protection for both UVA and UVB.

Another issue associated with mineral sunscreens is thick, white textures that coat the skin and don’t absorb well. Once more, this is something new formulas are breaking free from; Ren’s Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30, for instance, is a great example of what modern mineral SPFs can do. Ultra-lightweight, this formula has a matte texture and absorbs into the skin instantly, meaning you can even use it prior to makeup application.

Do sea-safe sun creams also provide equally good anti-ageing protection?

‘It depends on the sunscreen,’ Oliver said. ‘UVA filters are the ones that provoke the breaking of the collagen and therefore premature skin-aging, and also are the ones that degrade the DNA and increase the risk of skin cancer so you really need to be looking for a sunscreen that offers good UVA protection.

‘Mineral filters alone don’t offer a very high protection against UVA rays so you will need to look for a sunscreen with the UVA word in a circle According to EU recommendations, the UVA protection for each sunscreen should be at least a third of the labelled SPF. A product that achieves this requirement will be labelled with the UVA logo printed in a circle. So then you know you have a good protection not only against aging, but against skin cancer.’

Caudalie’s new suncare offers a Patented Antioxidant Complex to offer maximum anti-ageing protection containing grapeseed polyphenols, spruce extract and vitamin E, a cocktail that it is antioxidant, anti-wrinkle and offers DNA protection.

David agreed that sea-safe sun creams can offer equally good protection – ‘they just take a different route to get there,’ he says. ‘They are all tested to their SPF factor so are regulated to be effective, with chemical SPF converting harmful rays into heat, and physical SPF blocking and dispersing rays before they affect the skin.’

Which sea-safe sunscreens are best?

Ren Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30, £33,

Green People Scent Free Sun Lotion SPF30, £25.50,


Caudalie Milky Sun Spray SPF 50 75ml, £6.30, Cult Beauty

NIVEA SUN Suncream Spray SPF 30, £5.99, Superdrug

GREAT BARRIER sun lotion, £28, Tropic Skincare

Organii SPF50 Sun Milk, £24.95, Ethical Superstore

Why are these sun creams often more expensive?

‘The filters that caused the damage in corals (oxybenzone and oxtinoxate) are cheaper options that make the formula nice and they work to protect the skin, hence why most brands use them, but they are not good for the marine eco-system,’ says Caudalie’s Oliver.

‘The alternative filters are more expensive and it is more difficult to make them work together in synergy in the formula, so it takes a longer process to create it. Our prices start at £18 as we would like to make good sun screen for the skin and for the marine ecosystem accessible to everybody.’

David adds: ‘It’s important to keep in mind though that if the product offers additional benefits like antioxidants or other high-tech actives, the price would be reflect as higher.’