Getting people to wear sunscreen used to be every dermatologist's primary concern. But now that the general population knows about the health risks and skin damage that sun exposure causes, there's a whole new sunscreen concern: Are the ingredients safe for me and the environment? While this includes a whole list of criteria (more on that, ahead), choosing a sunscreen that's cruelty-free is at the top of the list. But since you still want an option that actually protects you from the sun without leaving behind a white cast or sticky film, only one of the best cruelty-free sunscreens will do.
Because there's no one-term-fits-all when it comes to choosing beauty products that are "good" for you, animals, and the environment, it gets complicated. Obviously, to be considered cruelty-free, the sunscreen company in question can't test on animals. But does a cruelty-free sunscreen also need to be coral reef-safe, since damage to coral reefs affects marine life by extension? Ethically, I think yes, which is why every sunscreen on this list is both cruelty-free and reef-safe.
Without getting too technical, when it comes to sunscreen formulations, you have two choices: chemical or mineral filters. In the past, chemical filters have widely been used because they absorb better into skin and are easier to formulate (though they also tend to be more irritating for anyone with skin sensitivities). But in recent years, two widely-used chemicals in particular, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been deemed damaging to coral reefs, and they were even banned in Hawaii.
That's where mineral filters come in. Identifying a mineral sunscreen is simple, as there are only two mineral UV filters that will appear on the "active ingredients" list: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens are approved safe for use when it comes to coral reefs and sensitive skin types. They also tend to be the UV protection of choice by natural brands that prioritize being cruelty-free, which makes them an all-around winner.
Ahead, find five of the best cruelty-free sunscreens that are also reef-safe.
1. The Overall Best Cruelty-Free Sunscreen
Not only does is this baby-friendly sunscreen cruelty-free and reef-safe, but its affordable price tag and large, 6-ounce bottle gives you the most bang for your buck, making this the overall best cruelty-free sunscreen on the market. This sunscreen may have been designed for babies, but it's just as effective for adults (also, if you have sensitive skin, using baby products is a great idea since they're formulated to be extra gentle).
The Thinkbaby SPF 50+ Sunscreen has earned a number of certifications and awards for its efficacious formula, including being the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care Requirements. It also has top rating by the EWG, and is certified animal-friendly by Leaping Bunny. Non-nano zinc oxide (whose larger particles pose less of a risk to marine life) is the mineral filter in this sunscreen, which provides full UVA and UVB ray protection. The formula is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and includes moisturizing and soothing ingredients like glycerin, aloe vera, and hyaluronic acid. Even the tube is environmentally-friendly, with packaging that's free of BPA, vinyl, and phthalates.
2. Best Spray Sunscreen
If you prefer a spray-on formula, there's the Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Natural Spray. Australian Gold doesn't test on animals, and their entire botanical line was formulated to be coral reef-safe. Formulated with a blend of natural botanical ingredients and a citrusy scent, the sunscreen is free of parabens, phthalates, dyes, oil, and most other common chemical irritants. It's packaged in a big, 5-ounce bottle and and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
3. Best Sunscreen For Very Sensitive Skin
For another high-quality mineral sunscreen, consider MDSolarSciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50. Though the Thinkbaby and Australian Gold sunscreens should both be safe for sensitive skin types, MDSolarSciences takes things even further with a formula that's completely free of oil and fragrance, making this is a great choice for highly sensitive skin (including skin that's prone to rosacea and body acne).
The 4-ounce sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and it offers maximum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. MDSolarSciences also included antioxidant-rich ingredients in the formula, like vitamin C, green tea, and pomegranate extract, plus moisturizers like ceramides and glycerin, which help keep your skin hydrated.
4. Best Face Sunscreen
This new sunscreen from eco-conscious brand Thrive blows all the other face-specific formulas out of the water. Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide with an SPF of 30, this lightweight sunscreen is cruelty-free, reef-safe, and free of just about every chemical and synthetic ingredient imaginable (parabens, propylene gylcol, PABA, et cetera).
Instead, the formula is loaded with good-for-skin ingredients sourced in Costa Rica, where the brand is based, like Arabica coffee oil, wakame seaweed, and Tazman pepper. These ingredients work together to soothe and repair sensitive, irritated skin, while the lightweight, non-greasy formula won't feel sticky or cause acne-prone skin types to breakout.
Other ingredients in the formula, like juanilama and fierrillo vine, boast anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help heal everything from razor burn to pimples. The nourishing sunscreen leaves a matte finish on skin so as not to exacerbate shine, and it absorbs quickly.
5. Best Face & Body Sunscreen
Badger is a go-to brand for natural skin care products, and their Clear Zinc Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream is great for all-over sun protection. Using clear zinc oxide for UVA and UVB protection, this cruelty-free and reef-safe sunscreen is non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free, so it's safe for sensitive skin types to use and can even be used on your face. Though it starts out white when you first apply it, the creamy formula rubs in clear and keeps skin moisturized using ingredients like organic aloe and sunflower oil. It is important to note that this particular formula isn't water-resistant, so you'll need to be especially vigilant about reapplying after swimming or sweating.
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