July 03, 2019 4 min read

Hey you fish out there! Are you an avid swimmer, diver and general beach bum in the summer? Well, you've probably been hearing A LOT about reef-safe sunscreen and environmentally safe sunscreen. So, we wanted to get down to business and talk it out with you because it is something that we care deeply about.

Choose a water safe sunscreen

Choosing An All Natural Sunscreen

Sunscreen seems like the hot topic of the year. It's everywhere! Words like natural, reef-safe and oxybenzone are floating around like sunscreen in water. Natural sunscreen is coming in hot and there is a good reason for that: people are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact on the planet around them. They want to choose a sunscreen that not only protects them from the sun's harmful UV rays but is also safe for their ventures into the water.

The Trend of Reef-Safe Sunscreens


Hawaii was recently the first place in the world to actually make a law against reef harming chemicals in sunscreen. Researchers in Hawaii have seen an over 40% decline in reefs over the last few decades, which is a scary thought for marine life. After Hawaii, the small island nation of Palau also moved to ban reef harming sunscreens. They actually have one of the most diverse and largest marine reserves on the planet. Both these places rely heavily on their marine environments and are intent on protecting them.

This was a major step forward in the natural, reef-safe sunscreen movement. Since then, reef-safe sunscreen has become a topic of conversation and more people than ever are reading the back of sunscreen bottles (yay!).

Things to look for in reef-safe sunscreen

Reef-safe sunscreen is not something that is legislated federally in Canada, the US or internationally. Again, the only places with actual legislation are Hawaii and Palau.

Checklist to ensure it is really Reef-Safe

Here is an easy checklist to make sure your sunscreen is reef-safe and that you can take it on your next vacation to Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef, Palau or another ocean environment:
  • Oxybenzone Free - this is one of the ingredients to avoid and is the worst for coral reefs.
  • Octinoxate Free - this ingredient contributes heavily to coral bleaching.
  • Petrolatum Free - this is also commonly known as mineral oil. It is deadly for marine life.
  • Low Titanium Dioxide content - this ingredient reacts in warm seawater to create hydrogen peroxide… enough said. Make sure it has low amounts that is also non-nano.
  • Parabens Free - avoiding parabens means your sunscreen is better for the ocean.
  • Only contains non-nano Zinc Oxide - non-nano ingredients are crucial for reef health!
  • Also doesn't contain: octinoxate, triclosan, PABA, butylparaben, octocrylene and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor - none of which sound like anything you should put on your body.

Why are these things so bad?

Let's talk for a moment about why the things above make your sunscreen reef-safe. Now, the main culprits that are bad for your corals and fish are nanoparticles and oxybenzone.

Reef Safe

Choosing a natural sunscreen that is made from non-nano Zinc Oxide, like our natural sunscreen, is best for corals. Corals can ingest and consume nanoparticles which disrupt the coral's growth cycle and reproduction. This can lead to coral bleaching. Oxybenzone, on the other hand, is a chemical that can impact coral reefs in as little as 62 ppt. Yes, that's 62 parts per trillion, meaning the equivalent of one drop of water in 6.5 Olympic size swimming pools. This chemical also leads to coral bleaching and the decline of coral reefs.

What even is coral bleaching?

Coral bleaching is like when you're sick. You might be pale or sluggish. Coral bleaches as a response to stress.


Coral bleaching technically is the coral expelling the algae from inside it. Coral and algae rely on each other to survive. The algae provide a complete food source to the coral and for their colour (hence why they turn white after expelling the algae). After prolonged algae loss, the coral will actually die.

Coral reefs only cover 1% of the ocean floor, but on average they provide the home and living environment for 25% of marine life to live and thrive. As we get more dead corals and coral bleaching, marine life also declines.

Sunscreen in the ocean

Did you know that in a year 14000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in the ocean? That is a staggeringly large amount. This doesn't all come from swimming in the ocean either.

Ocean safe sunscreen

Using sunscreens on the beach, by the lake or even away from the ocean, can end up in the ocean. If it rains the sunscreen in the sand gets washed in. Lakes often drain into the ocean. It's all about the water cycle! So, using a reef-safe natural sunscreen everywhere is important.

Choose Natural


At Rocky Mountain Soap our natural sunscreen is reef-safe, non-whitening, environmentally safe and smells like the tropics. We only use natural ingredients and don't use any of the harmful things listed above. Yay for reef-safe sunscreen.

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