The 11 Best Reef-safe Sunscreens of 2024, Tested and Reviewed

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As more and more tropical destinations ban harmful chemicals often found in traditional sunscreen, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, one of the best ways to help preserve aquatic wildlife is to wear reef-safe sunscreen. These products don’t contribute to coral bleaching, and they’re just as protective and nourishing as regular sunscreen. When you aren’t headed to the beach, using reef-safe sunscreen lessens the chance that you’re sending damaging chemicals to water sources through your sink and shower drains.

There are a variety of reef-friendly sunscreens out there, so we thoroughly researched options that exclude chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate and found 32 options from trusted skincare brands. We tested them in our New York City lab, in everyday settings, and during sun-soaked getaways. Whether you’re surfing, snorkeling, or swimming in the ocean waves, our wide-ranging list has something to suit your needs. Plus, we have tips and tricks for buying reef-safe sunscreen to give you the best possible protection from the sun without environmental consequences.

How we chose our products

When looking at ingredients, we always looked for the two main chemicals that should not be in reef-safe sunscreens first: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Non-nano (larger than 100 nanometers) zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is safe for reefs and marine life, but nano zinc oxide particles (smaller than 100 nanometers) can be ingested by marine animals including coral, causing internal damage.

Thrive Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 50
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Amazon


While many reef-safe sunscreens have a grainy texture or leave a white cast, Thrive’s Body Mineral Sunscreen felt like a moisturizing lotion, impressing us enough to give it our top spot. It came out of the container easily and rubbed into our skin smoothly. It absorbed within a minute on our hands, arms, and other parts of our body and took longer to fully absorb into our face and neck areas, but within 15 minutes it felt like a silky moisturizer on our skin. The scent was mildly herbal and floral, and did not smell artificial, which we appreciated. It never felt cloying, oily, or sticky, and there was no irritation or dryness.

This sunscreen does not transfer to other fabrics or surfaces and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. We reapplied after this time and didn’t burn at all in the hot Mexican sunshine. We were also impressed with how long the bottle lasted — we used it extensively during a five-day vacation to Mexico, applying it three times daily, and only went through half of the container. This does help offset the high price, although those on a budget may have a hard time with the price tag. That being said, we think it is worth the investment considering how great it feels on our skin and how well it works.

The Details: 50 SPF | 5.8 ounces | 80 minutes of water resistance

Maui Surfer Honey All Natural Sunscreen
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Amazon


Whether you’re swimming, surfing, or snorkeling, you need a sunscreen that will continue to protect your skin long after it’s become wet. While Hawaii officially banned non-reef-safe sunscreens in 2021, Maui Naturals has been making our top-scoring Maui Surfer Honey sunscreen since 2009, thanks to its quick absorption qualities and its ability to stay put. We love that the sunscreen didn’t transfer or come off after a sweaty workout, and we think the formula sets in perfectly for a variety of outdoor activities.

The formula is creamy and hydrating and reminds us of a daily moisturizer thanks to its lightweight texture. It’s easy to apply and feels gentle even on sensitive skin. Made in Hawaii, the reef-friendly formula is free of harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, petrochemicals, and nanoparticles, and includes natural ingredients like aloe vera, jojoba oil, and honey. We’re big fans of the hint-of-marshmallow aroma that comes from the sunscreen, as we found it to be subtle and sweet. The sunscreen is an off-white shade and left a little white cast that went away after the lotion had a few minutes to set into the skin.

The Details: 30 SPF | 3 ounces | Up to 80 minutes of water resistance

 Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Skin Nourishing Milk SPF 50
PHOTO:

Target


This Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen will instantly transport you to the beach thanks to its subtle but deliciously tropical scents. The milky texture applies like silk on the skin and, although it’s a little watery, it absorbs quickly without leaving a pesky residue behind. Plus, it didn’t transfer at all when we rubbed our arms with a black T-shirt after application. While working out and swimming in the pool, none of the sunscreen came off or felt slimy, which led us to believe that this sun lotion lives up to its 80-minute water resistance.

We love the button applicator for applying the sunscreen, but we wish the bottle was more durable to avoid any possibility of spills occurring in a suitcase. That being said, we still think this is one of the best sunscreens we tried thanks to the silky texture, moisturizing effect, and sweet island aroma.

The Details: 50 SPF | 1.7 ounces, 3.4 ounces | Up to 80 minutes of water resistance

Suntegrity Skincare Natural Mineral Body Sunscreen
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Amazon


Whether you’re swimming, hiking, running, or hitting the courts, we think Suntegrity’s mineral body sunscreen is ideal for all types of adventures thanks to the non-greasy feel of the lotion — perfect to stash in a beach tote or tennis bag. We love that it applies like a regular lotion with a little bit going a long way, and it feels superhydrating on the skin. You barely feel like you’re wearing sunscreen thanks to the lightweight texture and refreshing ingredients like aloe vera, cucumber extract, and jojoba oil. Although the formula includes a variety of oil-based ingredients, the application and result don’t feel slick or greasy at all. There is a very minimal white cast after applying the sunscreen to larger parts of the body like legs and arms, but for a mineral-based sunscreen, the white cast isn’t nearly as bad as others we tried. Plus, if you’re a fan of citrus scents, you’ll like the sunblock’s subtle orange aroma, too.

The Details: 30 SPF | 3 ounces

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
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Amazon


For travelers looking for sunscreen that doesn’t have any added scent, this tube of Blue Lizard lotion is your best option. We’re big fans of the hydrating liquid texture that comes out of the bottle seamlessly and easily spreads around the body. Blue Lizard uses smart-cap technology that makes the cap of this tube change from translucent to blue if there is a harmful level of UV rays outside, so all you have to do is take the bottle out of your bag to see if applying is urgently needed. Because the formula is very watery, it might take some extra rubbing in to get the sunscreen to absorb, so we think the formula is best designed for dry skin rather than oily skin combinations. The sunscreen has a slight white cast and a residual greasiness, but it still feels hydrating and lightweight.

The Details: 50 SPF | 5 ounces | Up to 80 minutes of water resistance

Pipette Mineral Sunscreen
PHOTO:

Amazon


Mineral sunscreen has a bad rap for being overly thick and pasty, but the Pipette Mineral Sunscreen defies expectations by absorbing quickly without leaving any white cast or greasy residue behind. The non-nano zinc oxide formula provides broad-spectrum protection from harmful UV rays without damaging coral reefs, so you can feel good whether you’re swimming or snorkeling in the ocean. Other natural ingredients include sugarcane-derived squalene to help make the texture extra spreadable and red gooseberry extract for sun protection to create a formula that is designed to be gentle enough for babies, toddlers, and children. We did notice that after getting out of the water, some of the sunscreen ran off and transferred to a shirt, but it didn’t cause any skin irritation or stinging in the eyes.

The Details: 50 SPF | 4 ounces

Reef Repair Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30+
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Amazon


We think the gentle and natural ingredients in Reef Repair’s Suncream make it an excellent choice for the entire family. The purchase includes two 1.7-ounce tubes of sunscreen that you can easily pack in a carry-on or personal item bag without having to worry about stocking up when you arrive at your destination. We loved that a little bit of the thicker-consistency sunscreen provides plenty of coverage, and it blends in quickly. It did feel a little sticky during application and slightly chalky when it dried, but the sunscreen stayed put when the skin came into contact with water, so it will work well for water activities. In addition, the formula is kid- and reef-friendly. It doesn’t include oxybenzone or octinoxate, so you can relax on vacation knowing you’re protecting reefs and wildlife as well as your family, too.

The Details: 50 SPF | 1.7 ounces | Up to 60 minutes of water resistance

MDSolarSciences SPF 50 Mineral Creme
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Amazon


We love that this TSA-approved MDSolarSciences sunscreen uses ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc that are designed for sensitivities like acne- or rosacea-prone skin but are still reef-friendly. For extra transparency, you can click on the name of every ingredient included in the sunscreen to learn more about its purpose on the MDSolarSciences site. When it comes to mineral sun lotions, this one was a bit thick, but after rubbing it in thoroughly, the white cast went away, and it absorbed into the body and face evenly. When on vacation, many people bring sunscreen for the face and another tube for the rest of the body, but this product does it all so you can pack less. Since the formula is gentle on the body and face, we think this is an excellent all-in-one sunscreen that is easy to travel with, too.

The Details: 50 SPF | 1.7 ounces, 3.4 ounces | 80 minutes of water resistance

Isdin Eryfotona Actinica Mineral SPF 50+ Sunscreen
PHOTO:

Amazon


If you like to splurge on your skincare, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better sunscreen than ISDIN’s mineral sunscreen. Although this lightweight formula does leave a slight white cast when first applied, it absorbs into the skin quickly and turns into a sheer effect. The watery texture — a welcome difference from thick, goopy sunscreens — also helps you cover more surface area with a smaller amount.

“I put on a ton of sunscreen on the back of my hand (more than two fingers worth), and it disappeared pretty much instantly once I spread it on,” said Travel + Leisure testing editor Jackie Cucco. “This makes it more realistic to actually apply the real amount you’re supposed to use since it doesn’t get messy.”

Since this sunscreen is meant for your face, Cucco loved that it didn’t feel greasy or oily on her skin, and instead gave a slight matte effect that worked great under makeup. When it came time to wash her hands or apply hand sanitizer, the sunscreen stayed put and didn’t need reapplication. She never saw it run while sweating out in the sun, either. The only downside to this product is its high price point, but it’s well worth the money in our opinion, and the size is decent for skincare.

The Details: 50 SPF | 3.4 ounces | 40 minutes of water resistance

Vertra Invisible Sunscreen Face Stick
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Vertra


If you’re looking for easy sunscreen application, it doesn’t get much simpler than Vertra’s Invisible Sunscreen Stick. T+L editor Taylor Fox described it as “ChapStick for your face” and loved that she didn’t have to rub it in to get good coverage. “It doesn’t feel dry at all, and I wouldn’t really say it’s greasy either,” she says.

Fox tested the clear version of this sunscreen and found that it didn’t rub, transfer, or create any white cast. You can also purchase tinted options that will provide more coverage if you wish. The sunscreen didn’t run due to sweat or water, and Fox didn’t feel like she had to reapply it more frequently than advertised. That being said, she wouldn’t suggest applying it over makeup because it would probably smear due to the application design. The stick is quite small, which was handy for packing but could get a little annoying if it falls to the bottom of your bag, and you have to dig around to find it. Overall, we feel like this is a good option for light packers and people who don’t want to touch their face when applying and reapplying sunscreen.

The Details: 45 SPF | 0.35 ounces | 80 minutes of water resistance

Tatcha The Silk Sunscreen SPF
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Tatcha


Finding a sunscreen that looks and feels good on your face can be tricky, but luxury brand Tatcha makes the choice much easier. This sunscreen performs double duty by providing SPF 50 sun protection and offering a host of benefits for your face thanks to skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, which help with hydration and creating an even complexion. Silk extracts leave a smooth finish and help skin look radiant alone or under makeup.

We found this sunscreen easy to get out of the container and liked the watery texture that didn’t feel sticky or thick. It is incredibly lightweight and truly lives up to its name — we felt like there was nothing on our skin after applying. Regardless, the sunscreen still provided excellent protection when reapplied correctly. It is fragrance-free, which we appreciated as a face sunscreen worn so close to our nose, and it has a slight peach tint that disappears after blending. We did take this sunscreen with us on a trip and found that the bottle had exploded in our suitcase during our flight, which was a hassle to clean up and made us lose quite a bit of product. We would love to see a bottle design in the future that would prevent something like this from happening. Otherwise, we loved how this felt on our face and will be using it again.

The Details: 50 SPF | 1.7 ounces | 80 minutes of water resistance

Other Reef-safe Sunscreens We Liked

The reef-safe sunscreens highlighted below are still editor-approved, but due to some minor issues during testing, they didn’t quite surpass our top performers when it came to slight issues with texture, opacity, and water resistance.

All Good Face & Body Sport Sunscreen Lotion: We love that the formula was non-irritating for our team member with sensitive skin and that it absorbs into the skin within seconds. However, similar-performing sunscreens performed better in both our lab and real-world tests.

Thinksport Clear Zinc SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen: This sunscreen doesn’t feel greasy and doesn’t run on sweaty or wet faces, making this a great option for surfers, body boarders, and even divers. That being said, the white cast remains after 15 minutes, despite the fact that it feels dry to the touch.

Travel + Leisure / Jessica Juliao


Sea & Summit SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion: We were impressed with how quickly the white cast disappeared and that it didn’t stain our clothing, but this ultimately felt like a standard mineral sunscreen with no special features that made it stand out among the others.

Urban Skin Rx SheerGlow Even Tone Daily Defense Mineral Moisturizer: We really enjoyed how sheer the sunscreen is once completely rubbed into our skin but found that it can be a bit greasy. It would work best for those with dry skin.

Kokua Sun Care Sunscreen: Designed with outdoor activities top of mind, this sunscreen from Kokua has a plant-based formula and water resistance for up to 80 minutes. We like the natural ingredients but found that it takes quite a bit of effort to rub in.

Our Testing Process

We began by thoroughly researching sunscreens made with reef-friendly ingredients, which don’t leave behind harmful chemicals, like oxybenzone or octinoxate, that cause damage to coral reefs. We tested 32 tubes of reef-safe sunscreen in our New York City lab and in our everyday lives, paying close attention to the texture, opacity, transfer, and water resistance of each lotion to compare and contrast a variety of reef-friendly sunscreens on the market.

In the lab, we spritzed our arms with water and rubbed them with black T-shirts to test water resistance and product transfer. Whether our team members were working up a sweat at the gym, swimming in the ocean, or lounging poolside, the best sunscreens we tried had hydrating formulas that absorbed quickly, didn’t leave any sticky or oily residue behind, and proved to be water- and sweat-resistant without irritating the skin or stinging the eyes.

Travel + Leisure / Jessica Juliao


You May Also Need

When you’re heading out for a full day in the sun, be sure to protect more than just your skin with some of these stylish products to keep you comfortable so you can enjoy even longer days in the sand.

Maui Jim Women’s Capri Polarized Cat Eye Sunglasses: These stylish sunglasses feature PolarizedPlus2 lenses to provide the ultimate protection from UV rays while enhancing colors, so you’ll want to wear them all day long.

Pacific Breeze Easy Setup Beach Tent: Beach canopies provide protection from the sun and heat on long beach days. Along with its breathable, UPF 50+ material, this canopy is designed with two adjustable windows for airflow control.

Tommy Bahama Backpack Cooler Chair: This compact chair weighs less than eight pounds and can be worn comfortably as a backpack so you can transport it hands-free. The chair feels durable and comfortable to sit in and even reclines all the way flat so you can enjoy a nap on the beach without getting down in the sand.

Tips for Buying Reef-safe Sunscreen

Carefully read the ingredients

Some destinations have stricter ingredient bans for sunscreen than others, so the first thing you should do is look up the regulations before you start shopping. Tropical destinations like Palau, Hawaii, and Aruba have bans on chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, homosalate, parabens, and more, so you’ll want to research the specific prohibited ingredients ahead of time. Similarly, if you’re looking for organic or all-natural sunscreen, find certifications on the label to ensure you’re getting the sunscreen you need.

Look at the sunscreen’s active ingredients

When you’re buying reef-safe sunscreen, it’s essential to look at the active ingredients. Reef-friendly sunscreen will only have non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients, which are the two ingredients that will protect you from harmful UV rays without affecting coral reefs. Inactive ingredients include water, oils, or extracts, so you look for those to find out which ones are natural or organic if that’s important to your sunscreen shopping.

Prioritize water resistance and SPF levels

Depending on how you’ll be spending your vacation, you’ll want to buy sunscreen that will protect your skin for a range of activities. If you’re planning on spending most of your time in the water, consider getting a lightweight sunscreen with higher SPF and water resistance of up to 80 minutes. For those looking for an everyday sunscreen, a sheer and more watery sunscreen will be easy to apply and not super noticeable on the skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What makes sunscreen reef-safe?

    Reef-friendly sunscreens don’t use any chemicals that can cause harm to ocean wildlife by bleaching coral reefs — oxybenzone or octinoxate, for example. There are several tropical destinations like Palau and Hawaii that enforce bans on sunscreens that contain certain chemicals known to cause damage. A lot of sunscreen brands will be advertised as reef-friendly or reef-safe, but you’ll want to read the ingredients list to make sure the sunscreen doesn’t include harmful chemicals or nanoparticles and microplastics like exfoliating beads.

  • Which sunscreen ingredients are not reef-safe?

    Generally, the ingredients that can cause harm to coral reefs include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are two common chemicals found in sunscreen. In addition, octocrylene, homosalate, 4-methyl benzylidene camphor, Triclosan, parabens, nanoparticles, and microplastics are all harmful ingredients you don’t want in your sunscreen if you want to protect aquatic life.

  • Where is not reef-safe sunscreen banned?

    Currently, nonreef-safe sunscreens are banned in Hawaii, Palau, the U.S. Virgin Islands, parts of Mexico, Key West, Aruba, and Bonaire. However, if you’re planning on snorkeling or scuba diving near coral reefs elsewhere, you may be advised to bring reef-safe sunscreen.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Anna Popp is a commerce writer at T+L, where she writes about and reviews travel products. She has been travel writing since 2018 and product testing since 2021. Anna tested reef-safe sunscreen herself and worked with travel editors to determine the results for the best reef-safe sunscreens on the market.

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