More screen time: sustainable sun creams

Protect our skin or protect our oceans? Turns out, we can do both

Sunscreen is a widely agreed upon skincare necessity, protecting everyone, of every skin tone, from the sun’s largely harmful UVA and UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, when used as instructed, “Sunscreen is proven to decrease the risk of skin cancers and skin precancers by 40-50%, and will help prevent premature skin ageing caused by the sun as well.”

What should seem like a no-brainer, though, isn’t quite such. While sunscreen protects us, it can cause irreparable damage to the coral reefs and marine life it encounters. Typically, conventional sunscreen contains a barrage of chemicals, so when we swim in the ocean – or even just shower – those chemicals end up in our waterways, harming ocean life. When coral reefs absorb these chemicals, they become deformed and are susceptible to sustained bleaching and disruption in their DNA that stunts reproduction and growth – eventually causing death.

So, what can we do to keep our skin protected without harming these precious, biodiverse marine areas? Save The Reef Foundation, an organisation dedicated to saving the world’s oceans and marine life recommends finding an SPF that uses physical UVA and UVB filters instead of chemical ones. “Look for the active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They form an actual physical block to shield skin from absorbing any rays and are safe for reefs.”

These special reef-safe sunscreens contain ‘non-nano’ particles, meaning the particles are 100 nanometres or above and too large for the coral to mistakenly ingest – and typically are comprised of a mineral complex that does not contain these destructive compounds. Unfortunately, though, there are still some grey areas when it comes to marketing a sunscreen as reef-safe; governing bodies haven’t yet agreed upon a concrete definition. Some smaller, sustainably-minded brands have made investments into research, and working alongside conservationists, have crafted reef-safe sunscreens that protect the skin as well. 

Sol de Ibiza

Sol de Ibiza is a Spanish brand that has spent three years developing its products. They utilise local aloe vera for nourishing and sun-soothing properties – also, their line is entirely plastic-free, certified organic and vegan; it comes in tin or stick form, SPF30 or SPF50. £19.95, 

Goddess Garden

More widely available, Goddess Garden is another brand that has spent much time – more than 15 years, to be precise – researching and crafting their sunscreen. They’ve taken their commitment to protect the oceans even further, as well, and created a non-profit organisation that benefits from their sales entitled Protect Our Mother. Their profound commitment is reflected in their sunscreen formulas, which are safe for sensitive skin, organic, plant-based, biodegradable, vegan, cruelty-free and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. £46, Ninth Avenue.


One complaint towards zinc and titanium-based sunscreens is that they can leave a chalky residue on the skin that becomes increasingly obvious with a darker tone. Amazinc! has sought to remedy this by using the colour as an accessory; their Mineral Shield comes in fun hues such as Lime Green – beckoning a bit of festival-style face painting at the seaside. £10.50, Peace With the Wild.

Sun Serum

Winner of a coveted Allure Beauty Award in 2020, Venus Williams’ Unrivaled Sun Serum, from her brand Eleven, has been deemed a ‘game-changer.’ The silky serum is reef-safe and lightly hydrates with a weightless feel – plus, there’s none of that aforementioned chalky cast. From $42, Eleven by Venus Williams.


Having simplified sunscreen to its necessary components only, Shade has just four ingredients. Each plays an essential role in moisturising and protecting skin whilst keeping it healthy – plus, it reflects 96% of the rays that can damage it. The simple (yet effective) formula means it can be used on anyone and everyone, with any type of skin – including ultra-sensitive babies. From £4.20, Peace With the Wild.