Dive Deeper Blog

Ocean-Friendly, Reef-Safe Ingredients: How to Be Sure Your Sunscreen Is Truly Ocean-Friendly

January 29, 2019

You’ve probably heard by now about our Safe Sunscreen Pledge, your way of officially committing to using ocean-friendly, reef-safe sunscreen, and to educating your friends about making the same ecoconscious choice. But maybe you’re a little unsure about how to follow through with this promise. What is reef-safe sunscreen? How do you know if you’re using sunscreen with safe ingredients?

Your first step is to consult our Ingredients to Avoid list. This is your guide to unsafe, toxic ingredients. It lists sunscreen ingredients that are unsafe for you and our waters, and you can order a portable version, which lists ingredients commonly found in traditional sunscreens — even those labeled “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” — that are known health or eco-hazards.

Your second step is to understand that it’s not enough to just know which ingredients are unsafe — it’s very important to actually read the ingredients list on every bottle of sunscreen (or other body care product)  that you’re considering purchasing, to be absolutely sure that they are truly ocean-friendly and safe for your skin.

As the only tested and proven reef-safe sunscreen, you can be sure your purchase doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients if you’re using any of our Stream2Sea sunscreens. If you’re in a pinch and the dive shop or grocery store you’re visiting doesn’t happen to carry our product, consult your ingredients to avoid card, and don’t be fooled by fancy wording!

Sun-safe and ocean-friendly are NOT regulated terms — a manufacturer could use 100% oxybenzone and still label the product as safe for coral larva without repercussions from our government. If you’re not careful, you could go home with a harmful product that was deceptively labeled to imply a safety it doesn’t actually offer.

Some mainstream products on the market today, despite their “reef-safe” labels, have data sheets that mention they are “very toxic to aquatic life,” with one clearly stating “long-term hazard,” despite what their labels may imply. Some of these sunscreens can include the unsafe chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are harmful to humans and reefs.

Some ingredients are deceptively harmful, too. Clear zinc, for example, an ingredient that Stream2Sea initially considered including in our formula until we learned of its toxicity, has a technical data sheet that paints an ocean-unsafe picture, mentioning its “Acute Aquatic Toxicity” on the first page, rather than at the back of the long technical document, where aquatic safety information would normally be listed.

A quick rule of thumb when you’re in the sunscreen aisle —especially if you’re shopping to prepare for an adventure to Hawaii, Bonaire, or Palau, which have all banned sunscreens using many of these harmful chemicals — is to remember that if a sunscreen contains anything like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, or clear zinc, then it is not truly reef-safe. (And don’t forget that manufacturers aren’t required to label minerals as nanoparticles or their more stable natural form, so if you see the word “clear” on the front of the label and zinc as an active ingredient, you don’t want that one!)

Whatever you do, don’t trust a “reef-safe” label without checking out the ingredients for yourself — knowing that consumers are looking for “reef-safe,” some manufacturers will go to great lengths to re-label their bottles with catchy phrases, without changing their formulas.

Stream2Sea is still the only mineral-based sunscreen to have actually been tested and proven safe on various species ranging from tiny nematodes that mimic human interactions to the most vulnerable coral larva. We encourage you to use our products in the interest of truly protecting the ocean you love!

Experience. Respect. Explore.

Share your adventures with us! Show us how you share your love of the oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams around the world! Simply use the hashtag #Stream2Sea on Twitter and Instagram—and tell us why you love being on and in the water.