Reef Safe Sunscreen 2017-11-30T02:27:34+00:00

Fear of Frying

Ohhh the sunscreen horror stories …

We @ Wild Side became sunscreen savvy many ocean tides ago. Improper sun exposure cannot only seriously hamper your vacation, but can risk the heath of you, loved ones, and the environment in which it is used.

Our first clue came after witnessing people applying sunscreen in the boat’s shady cabin. And then hours later, the cushions they had sat upon were bubbling from chemicals in their sunscreen!

There is frightening evidence that these chemical sunscreens can in fact be harmful to us, and have even been argued to interfere with normal sexual development as well as other potential health problems, including increasing our susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancers. Similar risks may be passed on to marine mammals when the chemicals enter the water column.

The major risk factor for all types of skin cancer is over-exposure to the sun, which damages the skin at a cellular level and can build-up year after year, until the skin becomes increasingly susceptible to malignancy While sunscreens are not the answer in and of themselves, the right sunscreen can greatly help. Physical (as compared to chemical) sunscreens work by reflecting and/or scattering UV rays and radiation. Sunscreens using zinc oxide appear to be the safest route

Fish -safe sunscreen? It’s catching the durn fish to put the sun block on them that is so hard!


Many name brand sunscreens contain harmful oils and chemicals that damage coral reefs and marine plants and animals.  Every year between 8 million and 12 million pounds of sunscreen washes off of swimmers and goes into our water, potentially smothering our coral reefs, clouding up the water, or is ingested by our local fish and marine life.

Most marine animals are mass spawners. Their eggs are positively buoyant and float to the surface. When the eggs hit a layer of sunscreen they’re pretty much toast. Your choices can help to conserve this fragile ecosystem for years to come.

Suggestions for reef-safe sunscreens.

We recognize the need to be good stewards of all natural resources. So we try to reduce our environmental impact in everything we do as a business. 

We use Alba Botanica Sunscreen Sport Mineral SPF 45 onboard and like the coverage. It’s waterproof, cosmetically pleasing and provides broad spectrum protection.  Zinc oxide 9.0% and Titanium Dioxide 7.0% are the active ingredients.

We also let the clothes do a lot of the work. Stay covered! Big hats (with chin straps), sunglasses, long sleeves, rash guards, leggings, etc.

Put your sunscreen on before leaving home -experts say sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes to a half an hour before exposure.

The following is a cheat sheet of the ingredients that have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Butylparaben
  • Octinoxate
  • 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor

In general, any natural sunscreen (organic, biodegradable etc.) is better for the environment than a conventional one. Look for a brand that uses physical sunblocks such as titanium or zinc oxide instead of chemical ones. The jury is still out as to whether titanium and zinc oxide are truly reef safe. Both are mineral powders that some scientists claim settle on the ocean floor and block sunlight, but this belief does not seem to be widely accepted. If you want to decide between the two, zinc oxide is proven to block both UVA and UVB rays whereas titanium oxide primarily only blocks UVB rays.

Some we are NOT so thrilled with:

Reef-Safe by Tropical Seas! This sunscreen contains 6.0% OXYBENZONE as an active ingredient, a chemical know to harm coral. It also contains 7.5% OCTINOXATE, another compound known to have harmful effects on corals and people. The “reef-safe” test only is for fish NOT for corals. While fish are important in a reef ecosystem, corals are much more sensitive to disturbances.

Mexitan we used to like this, but now not so much due to the micronized minerals.

Badger: I was so happy when this skin and habitat safe, top-rated product arrived in the mail. The “hippie” smell (I can say that as an “old hippie”) was passable . The olive oil base was greasy. I had to drive the boat and go up and down the flybridge ladder with slick hands- and that was OK too, But, Holy Sea Cow did I burn!!. Gave it away to a passenger from a climate with a less intense sun (and didn’t mind the hippie smell and greasiness).