All Ages

The Big ‘Gotcha’ Moment You Could Experience on Your Next Vacation

Baby Getting Sunscreen Applied; Courtesy of NadyaEugene/Shutterstock.com
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You’ve made it to the beach, unpacked your cart, set up the tent and are ready to slather on the sunscreen.

Not so fast.

Is your sunscreen permitted on the beach? Soon it may not be, depending where you go. The reason? Many conventional sunscreens are harmful to the environment (and just as harmful to you) and are actually killing our coral reef. In an effort to preserve our planet, some destinations are banning the sale and use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, a toxic ingredient.

Destinations Banning Toxic Sunscreen

  • Hawaii
    In 2018, lawmakers signed the first bill in the U.S. to ban toxic sunscreen. The law will officially go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Key West
    In Key West, legislation banning toxic sunscreens will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Palau
    By 2020, you will no longer be able to purchase or use reef-toxic sunscreens in Palau.

What to Know About Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Q: Does reef-safe sunscreen work as well as conventional sunscreen?
A: “
In terms of ingredients, there’s reason to believe natural sunscreens are actually more effective than their chemical-based counterparts,” says Adina Mahalli, a skincare expert at Maple Holistics. “The active ingredients in natural sunscreen physically deflect the sun’s UV rays versus chemical sunscreens that absorb the sun’s rays and then transform them into less damaging waves.”

Conventional sunscreens also don’t protect us from skin cancer. “All the conventional ingredients in most sunscreens only protect from burns, not cancer, with the exception of avobenzone,” says Katie Kimball, a sunscreen expert who has tested over 100 natural mineral sunscreens. “That means if your regular sunscreen doesn’t have avobenzone (plus others), you’re not safe from UVA (aging, carcinogenic) rays anyway. And if it does, your clothing actually turns orange in the laundry if sunscreen touches it.”

Q: What ingredients should I look for?
A: “Zinc oxide, the best active ingredient in natural sunscreens, is actually the ONLY ingredient that provides broad spectrum coverage by itself,” says Kimball. “For families with young children, consider this: zinc oxide is also the active ingredient in diaper cream. It is the ONLY sunscreen active ingredient that’s approved for babies under 6 months, so it’s literally the safest.”

9 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens for Kids and Families 

Fortunately, more and more reef-safe sunscreens are hitting the market—but that makes it harder for consumers to choose what’s best. “Beware of ‘greenwashing,’ when brands slap a ‘mineral-based’ label on the front, but still include all the conventional actives, along with a paltry 3 percent zinc oxide,” says Kimball. Based on expert advice, these are the best reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens.

Thinkbaby Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

1. Thinkbaby 

Thinkbaby was the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements. For older kids, check out Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen, and for adults, there’s regular Thinksport.

Badger Baby Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

2. Badger 

Like Thinkbaby, Badger offers natural sunscreens that are formulated for babies and kids. Badger also makes a tinted zinc oxide sunscreen and an anti-bug sunscreen.

Kokua Sun Care Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

3. Kokua Sun Care

Kokua Sun Care is safe for coral reef and humans—babies included. It’s also formulated with 23 antioxidant ingredients, seven of which are grown in Hawaii.

Tropical Sands Mineral Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

4. Tropical Sands

“For beach outings, I recommend the All Natural Mineral Sunscreen by Tropical Sands,” says Sheila Rae, a licensed medical aesthetician and a writer for MedHelpAlert.org. “I like this one because it has SPF 50, is fragrance-free, and has a thick consistency, meaning it won’t wash out as easily when you go swimming. Of course, because it’s all-natural, it is also reef-friendly.”

Hello Bello Sunscreen; Courtesy of Hello Bello

5. Hello Bello

Dax Shepard and Kristin Bell’s baby line includes an SPF 50 natural mineral sunscreen that’s effective for both babies and adults.

Kabana Green Screen Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

6. Kabana Green Screen

There are only eight ingredients in Kabana Green Screen, including 25-percent non-nano zinc oxide. The sunscreen is safe for babies and children, as well as the environment; in fact, it’s biodegradable! Kabana Green Screen also makes sunscreens that are formulated for different skin types: Neutral (light Mediterranean, Asian, Caucasian); Bronze (Mediterranean, East Indian, Native American, and those who get a deeper tan in general); and Nude, which blends with your natural skin tone.

Raw Elements Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

7. Raw Elements

Raw Elements sunscreen is good for the whole family, and you don’t have to worry about it stinging anyone’s eyes. Also, this sunscreen is provided to guests at Aqua-Aston Hotels in Hawaii, so you know it’s a trusted product.

Adorable Baby Sunscreen; Courtesy of Amazon

8. Adorable Baby

Adorable Baby is an all-around good natural sunscreen for babies, with very few ingredients.

Trader Joe's Mineral Sunscreen Stick; Courtesy of Amazon

9. Trader Joes Mineral Stick

We love that this mineral sunscreen moisturizes skin with coconut oil and avocado oil, and that it glides on so easily! Take note—other Trader Joe’s sunscreens are NOT mineral-based, so this is the only one you’ll want to buy.

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