Sunscreens are a pickle. We need them to protect our skin from the sun, but they’re often filled with potentially harmful ingredients. What to do? Thankfully there are creams that both screen the sun and contain natural ingredients that are safe for us and for aquatic life (including reefs).
The most common sun-screening ingredients are the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, plus the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemicals get absorbed into the skin, while minerals sit on top as a block. Oxybenzone gets a 9 hazard rating from The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. The Good Guide says it's widely detected in human blood or urine, is suspected of causing photocontact sensitivity, and has been restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan. Octinoxate gets a 6 from EWG; it presents hormone disruption concerns, among other issues. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens rate far better, provided they don’t contain nanoparticles. A non-nano cream will appear white on the skin.
Other ingredients to avoid in any cream include PEGs, parabens, propylene glycol, perfume, formaldehyde, triclosan, and other unsavories. Many of these are carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hormone disruptors.
Before shopping for sunscreen, check Skin Deep. Their sunscreen ratings differ slightly from their cosmetic ones; they prioritize skin protection due to the high incidence of skin cancer, so you’ll still want to read the ingredient lists. Steer clear of any sunscreens with high hazard ratings.
If you cannot find a low hazard rating sunscreen in your drug store, check natural product stores, or shop online.