Is your sunscreen reef-friendly?

Image credit: @handsomegirldesigns

Glorious summer. What a time to be alive for humans, and what a time to die for coral reefs. That’s right, your sunscreen-slicked bod is likely contributing to the plight of our already struggling reefs.

While a change in water temperatures caused by global warming is the main reason for the mass bleaching of coral reefs, the tons (yes, tons) of toxic sunblock that is being deposited into our oceans every year is also having a catastrophically negative effect.

It’s shocking, I know. How can retailers be selling sea-ready products that are poisonous to those living in the sea? Capitalism, boo. It’s a shit show. And what’s worse is that the reef-killing ingredients can also be hazardous to human health.

So the next time you’re shopping for sunscreen, make sure it doesn’t contain any of the toxic ingredients listed below.

PS, I’d also give your potential purchase a quick Google because some companies (like NIVEA) don’t include said ingredients in their ingredients list, but will admit to their products containing them when asked directly. Yeah, it’s a lot.


  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Any form of microplastic beads
  • Any nanoparticles, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – these two ingredients are safe to use when they are “non-nano”, meaning that the particles are above 100 nanometers in size.
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Benzylparaben
  • Triclosan

Oxybenzone and octinoxate in particular are so bad that Hawaii passed a bill banning the sale of products containing them as of 1 January 2021. According to the bill, oxybenzone and octinoxate “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including the coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline.”

Check out the graphic below to find out what impact oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene – ingredients found in most of South Africa’s top-selling sunscreen brands – have on humans and our dwindling coral reefs:

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Luckily for us ocean lovers though, some brands aren’t irresponsible asses and have made some reef-friendly and cruelty-free sunblock options you’ll absolutely love. Introducing…


WHO? Back 2 Nature Surf Zinc SPF30 is a broad spectrum salt bae that takes waterproof powers to new heights. It’s safe for our oceans, safe for us, and works immediately upon application. It’s all natural, partially organic, vegan, and handmade in Cape Town. It’s best used on your face and applied 15-minutes before sun exposure.

COST? Get yours online from Faithful to Nature for R225 for a 50g tin (it lasts for months according to avid surfers).

SPECIAL MENTION: The reviews are fucking raving. People love this stuff because it smells good and works like a bomb. One application lasts two-hours, even when you’re duck diving for days. Also, no plastic packaging. Nuff said.

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WHAT? Surfyogis Natural Surfscreen is made with love in Bali and is, you guessed it, waterproof and broad spectrum AF. It was made by surfers for surfers and is loved by cyclists, outdoor adventurists, swimmers, and sun-lovers alike.

It’s 100% sweat and waterproof and claims to be so pure you could eat it! Chocolate, beeswax, non-nano zinc oxide, and coconut oil – that’s all it’s made of. It works immediately upon application and is best used on your face, neck, and ears.

COST? Order yours online for R240 from Dark Star. One application lasts for up to 6-8 hours (!) and the 60g tin lasts 6-8 months (!!!), as tested by surfers in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Australia.

SPECIAL MENTION: This is some serious sun protection, so be prepared to put in some effort to get it off. It’s not your typical lightweight under-your-make-up kind of coverage and it will leave a slight discolouration on your skin, BUT you can bank on the fact that you WON’T get burnt after just one application. Plus, there’s also a Cool Climate version for when you find yourself on the ski slopes.

WHO? Oh Lief Natural Sunscreen SPF30 took two years of trial and error to perfect. The result? A high-performance, luxuriantly creamy, whole-family-friendly sunscreen that is totally free of synthetic ingredients. There are two variants; one for your bod and one for your face.

COST? The body one goes for R99 for 30ml from Faithful to Nature and R244,95 for 100ml from Dischem. The face one (SPF20) goes for R199 per 50ml from Faithful to Nature.

SPECIAL MENTION: It’s got more of a creamy feel than the surf zinc, so you’re skin will feel soft and moisturised. Plus, it’s fragrance-free – perfect for those with sensitive skins and noses.

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WHO? Jennifer Scott Collection Moringa 5000 Sun Defense SPF40 is lekker by die see (Afrikaans for ‘nice by the sea’)! With ingredients like non-nano zinc oxide, colloidal silver, almond oil, jojaba oil, avocado oil, sheabutter, and argan oil, you can keep your skin baby-soft and stay protected from the sun’s harmful rays without killing any precious sea life. Yay! Use this gem on your face and body.

COST? It’s R156,95 for 100ml and R226,95 for 200ml from Dischem stores. You can also order it online from Go Healthy.

SPECIAL MENTION: This is my personal favourite. I take a bottle with me wherever I go! It feels more like a light moisturiser than a sunblock and has an aroma so heavenly, it’s a literal pleasure to apply. Plus, because it contains minerals and not chemicals, you don’t have to apply it 30-minutes before you get into the sun. It works immediately, and it really works. You’re welcome.

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WHAT? If you’re looking to bronze your buns, all that glitters IS gold when you’ve got this beach babe in your beach bag. Cocogold’s Botanical Tint + Tone Tan Oil is a luxuriant dry oil made from 100% natural ingredients that can be used year-round on the face, hair, and body. Squirt, rub, and wa-la: you’ve got the shimmering skin you’ve always dreamed of. It also smells and feels divine on the skin – no oily residue.

COST? Order yours online from Cocogold for R299 per 100ml bottle (there’s also a travel-sized guy for when you’re jetting of on beachcations).

SPECIAL MENTION: Because it’s a tanning oil and not a sunblock, you should use it in conjunction with a light sunscreen. Also, did we mention it’s a proudly South African female-owned business? WIN!

Please feel free to share your own reef-friendly sunblock/tanning oil options and I’ll add them onto this ever-growing list. Stay ocean-friendly and have happy beach days, my little beach baes.

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