How to Safely (and Sustainably) Enjoy the Beach

How to Safely (and Sustainably) Enjoy the Beach

As ocean enthusiasts, we are always cognizant of our carbon footprint, impact on the environment, and ways to act responsibly when enjoying nature in all forms. Today, let’s talk about respecting the ocean via a “sustainable beach trip.” Specifically, I’ll highlight and dive deep into “reef-safe” sunscreens, too! 


Pack Light, Pack Right!

Photo Source: Lily Slenson

When going to the beach, there are some absolute necessities! Next time you pack your “beach bag” and head for the ocean; think about what you’re bringing. Just as if you were camping, you should pack out or dispose of all your waste properly. This means waiting to recycle something if there isn’t a recycling can available. It means packing your trash out with you if the trash can on the beach is full! Lastly, it means you may want to pick up trash you see on the beach left behind by other guests. If you’re like me...you will also be ready at a moment’s notice to sprint through the sand and hunt down any piece of your trash that is flying away!


A sustainable beach trip should definitely include a beach bag. This can be a backpack of your choice, a hydration pack, a large, reusable beach bag, or whatever you want! Check out Respect the Fin beach bag options here. Inside the bag, you’ll want to bring a reusable water bottle or drink of your choice. If you buy drinks, juices, sodas, etc. in bulk, then bring it in a sealable Mason jar. When packing snacks, consider bringing waste-free snacks so you have less trash, or bring your food in reusable containers. You will of course pack your towel, too. Lastly, don’t forget the sunscreen! Speaking of sunscreen...let’s address “reef-friendly sunscreen.” 


Protect Your Skin and the Reef!

Photo Source: PADI Diving via Green Fins

It is SO important to protect our skin when spending time in the sun. I encourage you to spend time outdoors, and in the sun! The sun is beautiful, improves mood, gives us vitamin D, and is essential for a lot of life on earth. Our days start and end with the sun, and we should enjoy it as much as we can. When going out into the sun, you should wear sunscreen. In a perfect, dream-world, there would only be “reef-safe” sunscreens, or everyone would wear rash guards and not need to enter the ocean with extra chemicals on their bodies. However, this, unfortunately, is not the case. 


Rash Guards, hats, sunglasses, and shade are great alternatives to sun damage, but sunscreen can be very necessary for your skin’s health. Some sunscreens are more reef-friendly, however. This is not to say that there is a perfect sunscreen out there that is 100% safe for our reefs, but we can try our hardest to minimize impact when enjoying the big blue sea.


The Nitty Gritty of Sunscreens

As for the sunscreen debacle with our oceans’ health...it’s all about chemistry! Unfortunately, the two most important ingredients that absorb the sun’s harmful UV rays are also the two that can harm coral reefs. These two ingredients are octinoxate and oxybenzone. When we use sunscreens that have these ingredients, it’s inevitable that some of the sunscreen residues wash off of our bodies and straight into the ocean. The ocean’s composition was never meant to house millions of people’s added chemicals from their sunscreen. 


The effects of this on coral? Super detrimental! These chemicals can speed up and cause coral bleaching as well as disturb the endocrine system of the coral reefs. There is evidence of increased chemical density in areas of high human activity. In fact, there are over 14 TONS of sunscreen found in our oceans every single year...let that “sink” in (National Park Service).

Photo Source: Green Peace

Hawaii.com says that “Hawaii is the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, ushering in a new era of reef-safe sunscreen. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021, but many visitors and residents are already trading in their non-reef safe sun protection.” 


Fortunately for our skin, and the ocean, there is another way to avoid the sun’s UV rays, by blocking them! There are ocean-safe, reef-friendly sunscreens that use a more mineral-based formula that has zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These ingredients encourage the blocking of the UV rays and will protect our skin the same. The only difference is a slightly different texture and consistency on our skin. However, titanium oxide can still have negative effects on reef health. There is another layer of classification worded as “non-nano” which means that the participles are big enough to float to the bottom of the ocean rather than dissolve into the water and harm the coral. This does not mean that they are completely safe, but they are a better alternative to octinoxate and oxybenzone.


I’ve done some of the research and found some incredible brands that have taken the time and dedication to create formulas, awareness, and products that are much better for the oceans we adore. Here is a comprehensive list with some fun facts about each brand. My brand research sources and credit for product approval come from the Safe Sunscreen Council and a Hawaii.com blogger Karen Rose. Find the product websites and more information about them here and find their logos below.


The List of Safe Sunscreens, Grab Em’ While It’s Hot (Outside)!

This list is in no particular order, except that the members of Safe Sunscreen Council members are listed first. They have received the certification and gold stars from experts in the field. 


When shopping, always check your ingredients, beware of words such as “reef-safe,” and look at the symbols on the packaging. 


There are certain sunscreens with a “Protect Land & Sea” Certification.

The seal would not show up on the packaging itself, but it means that they have passed several tests and scored zero or extremely low on the “HEL” scale. HEL stands for Haereticus Environmental Lab and it is a comprehensive list of chemicals to avoid for reef-safe sunscreen. Read more about it here.


  • Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
        • Very cost-effective for anyone on a budget or looking to help the planet at a lower cost! This was the top choice from a 2019 review and seemed to feel the most natural while protecting the skin.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion
        • Has a beautiful tint to it and rubs in with a variety of skin-tones. Users enjoy the consistency and quality of the product.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
        • This one is a Hawaiian brand! Users enjoy the scent, feel, and overall quality of the sunscreen. It has been tested and worn with water sports and recreation wear.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Mama Kuleana Waterproof SPF 30 Reef-safe Sunscreen
        • This one is a Hawaiian brand! It also comes in biodegradable packaging and truly educates its customers. There is a lot of positive messaging on the website and supporters and customers get a look into their choice for the ocean’s benefit.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council
  • Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen
        • Tested by several researchers. The founder started this brand from the ground up and created a movement of awareness. Raw Elements also helped with virtual World Reef Day 2020.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Sea and Summit Organic Sunscreen
        • Has a delightful coconut smell, rubs in really effortlessly, and was made with a variety of habitats and ecosystems in mind for outdoor adventures. This one is a California company!
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock
        • Has a variety of products that tested safe, accessible. Biodegradable packing and this company support marine conservation.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Manda Organic SPF 50 Sun Paste
        • Ranks super well with eco-friendly measures in mind.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Raw Love SPF 35 All-natural Mineral Sunscreen
        • This one is a Hawaiian brand! It was created by a divemaster in Maui, Hawaii with eco-friendly ocean enthusiasts in mind. 
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
        • Plant-based to its core. This company has an entire line focused on children and babies for safe skin and healthy ocean practices.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen
        • This one is a beauty and skincare line for sunscreens. The products come in a variety of SPF, non-SPF, and tinted options.
        • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.
  • Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream
      • Organic ingredients, easy to rub in, feels like a lotion or cream. This website has a huge variety of products!
      • Part of the Safe Sunscreen Council.

    On the List but Not On the Council

    • Little Hands Hawaii SPF 35+ All-natural and Organic Sunscreen
      • This is a Hawaiian brand!
    • Drunk Elephant Umbra Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
      • Comes in a tinted form, easy to rub it, great formula.
    • Goddess Garden Mineral Sunscreen
      • Available in a variety of stores including Target. If you like stronger scents—this is a good pick! Users say it smells of cinnamon.
    • COOLA Pina Colada Sunscreen Spray
      • Super protective, reef-friendly, and eco-friendly!
    • Loving Naturals Clear Body SPF 30+ All-natural Sunscreen
      • Hypoallergenic and smells of vanilla.
    • Banana Boat Simply Protect SPF 50+ Sunscreen (spray, not lotion)
      • Very accessible in a variety of different stores or online.
    • Olita Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
      • More of a beauty sunscreen and is available at a lot of boutiques and online.

    Thanks for Being You, Thanks for Helping the Big Blue


    If you made it this far, THANK YOU! I really hope you learned something about our impact on the ocean and marine wildlife when we do something as simple and enjoyable as visiting the beach. 


    There are so many ways to create sustainable habits. In the future, if you have an extra dime to spend on your shopping list, consider putting it towards a more reef-friendly sunscreen, and encourage your friends to do the same. I hope this gives you something to look forward to and an easy way to make a difference in the health of the oceans and the wildlife that call it home. Have a wonderful week!


    Written By: Bailey Higa


    Sources:

    https://www.lovelyskin.com/blog/p/is-sunscreen-harming-ocean-coral-2

    https://www.hawaii.com/blog/reef-safe-sunscreen/

    https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-reef-safe-sunscreen/

    https://www.consumerreports.org/sunscreens/the-truth-about-reef-safe-sunscreen/

    https://www.allure.com/gallery/coral-reef-safe-sunscreen-reviews

    https://allgoodproducts.com/why-is-reef-safe-sunscreen-important/

    https://bigislanddivers.com/why-reef-safe-sunscreen-is-important/

    https://blueocean.net/sunscreens-that-protect-you-and-the-ocean/

    http://safesunscreencouncil.org/

    http://haereticus-lab.org/protect-land-sea-certification-3/

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