10 Important Things About Biodegradable Sunscreen

Plant Mother Editorial Team

Protecting your face and body from sun damage should be a high priority. Do you know what should also be a high priority? Wearing sunscreen that is good for our oceans. This is known as biodegradable sunscreen. It is also known as reef-safe sunscreen.

The thought of your skincare contaminating the ocean might have never crossed your mind. However, you need to be doing everything you can to protect the marine life. Therefore, you should know what is in your skincare products.

We want to talk about reef-safe sunscreen and here is a list of topics that we’ll discuss:

  • Biodegradable sunscreen
  • What does biodegradable mean?
  • Is there a difference between regular sunscreen and biodegradable sunscreen?
  • What does reef-safe mean?
  • Why is it important to wear biodegradable or reef-safe sunscreen?
  • Are biodegradable sunscreens as effective and safe as regular sunscreens?
  • Sunscreen Ingredients You Should Avoid
  • Labels To Look Out For
  • How To Incorporate Biodegradable Sunscreen In Your Everyday Life
  • Sunscreen Types
  • Final Thoughts

Biodegradable Sunscreen

Biodegradable sunscreen is made of materials that can break down or decompose naturally. This sunscreen has no harmful chemicals and ingredients that pose a threat to our coral reef systems and the environment. It is an earth friendly alternative to regular sunscreens (that can be toxic and environmentally harmful).

The goal should be to find a mineral-based and non-toxic sunscreen. Zinc oxide is a common ingredient found in biodegradable sunscreen. It’s not known to be linked to any health concerns and it is safer for coral reefs. Titanium dioxide can also be found in many mineral-based sunscreens and does not pose any harm to corals and reefs.

It’s important to know what chemicals are in your skincare because some ingredients can seep into your bloodstream. The two main ingredients you should avoid in sunscreen are oxybenzone and octinoxate. The F.D.A approves non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. When evaluating sunscreens, look for those that belong to clean skincare.

On top of that, you should always strive to find a clean and vegan skincare sunscreen, that is not tested on animals or made with animal ingredients.

What does biodegradable mean?

If something is biodegradable, it means that it can naturally break down and go back in nature without burdening the environment with pollution or waste. Some common examples are, but not limited to, are human waste, food scraps, and manure. Biodegradable applies to sunscreen, but also to packaging. Ideally, biodegradable sunscreen should be packed in environmentally-friendly packaging. The best ones are zero-waste, recyclable, non-plastic types of packaging.

What Does Reef-safe Mean?

“Reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” describe sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These two chemicals have toxic effects on ocean life and cause coral bleaching. They are UV-blocking chemicals that are common in most chemical sunscreens. 

mineral sunscreen

What’s The Difference Between Regular and Biodegradable Sunscreen?

The main difference between regular and biodegradable sunscreen is their ingredients. While it can be intimidating to determine what ingredients are good for you and what ingredients you should avoid, it will be worth it in the long run. The differences between biodegradable sunscreen and regular sunscreen:  

  • Biodegradable sunscreen. It can break down in the environment naturally and it contains natural ingredients that are safe (not harmful) to marine life and the environment.
  • Regular sunscreen. More often than not, chemical and synthetic formulas cannot decompose in the environment naturally. Therefore, they can kill corals and destroy marine ecosystems.

Why is it Important to Wear Biodegradable or Reef-safe Sunscreen?

Aquatic life is already deteriorating at a faster rate due to the damaging effects of climate change so we must do our part of protecting our oceans. Coral reefs are important ecosystems for aquatic life and serve as coastline protection against erosions and storms. Biodegradable sunscreens are free from harmful chemicals that could do serious damage to these ecosystems underwater. Oxybenzone and octinoxate have the potential to kill corals, dismantling important wildlife structures and ecosystems that protect aquatic life. Another incentive to use biodegradable sunscreen is that many people depend on reefs for income and food.

Biodegradable sunscreen protects your skin from the sun minus the harsh chemicals. Chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate run the risk of absorption into your bloodstream which can lead to health complications.

It’s better to choose a biodegradable sunscreen as an alternative because you are not just looking out for yourself but also for the safety of our oceans.

Are Biodegradable Sunscreens as Effective and Safe as Regular Sunscreens?

Biodegradable sunscreens are just as effective as regular sunscreens. Just like regular sunscreen, biodegradable sunscreens are available in different levels of SPF (15, 30, 40, or 50). If you want your sunscreen to be effective, make sure to use sunscreen with an SPF level of 30 or more. Of course, first look into what fitzpatrick skin type you are and let that fitzpatrick skin type chart lead you in determining the right SPF for your skin. 

 Since biodegradable sunscreen does not contain harmful chemicals, it’s okay for sensitive skin. Physical sunscreens are made of organic minerals and sit on the surface of the skin like a shield. As a safety precaution, always consult with a doctor before using a new product or ingredient. 


Sunscreen Ingredients You Should Avoid

Labels can be hard to navigate and read. Here is a list of some ingredients you should look out for:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Avobenzone
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Homosalate

To research other harmful ingredients, agencies and organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Save The Reef are good places to start.

Labels To Look Out For

Try to find a sunscreen that uses chemical-free and mineral-based sunscreens. The FDA does not have any set definitions of the term “reef-safe”, but the key is to look closely at the ingredients list. Unfortunately, reef-safe sunscreens are not regulated. There’s no institution providing reef-safe certification. That’s why you should carefully read product labels.

Additionally, avoid sunscreens packed in plastic packaging. Even if they’re biodegradable, they will contribute to plastic pollution. Therefore, make sure you find a sunscreen that is zero-waste, recyclable, or packed in biodegradable packaging. Zero-waste skincare aligns well with biodegradable nature of sunscreens.

How To Incorporate Biodegradable Sunscreen In Your Everyday Life

There’s a huge range of brands and SPF products in the market, making it easy to incorporate SPF into all your skincare needs. Therefore, you have no excuses to not make SPF part of your daily routine.

Sunscreen can be used as a primer or on top of your makeup as a last step. If you use it with your makeup, make sure it blends beautifully into your skin and neutralizes any redness, pores and fine lines. Avoid products that leave white cast, or can clog your pores.

Find a clean biodegradable sunscreen that gives you a nice dewy finish, no greasy feel, or white cast. This will make you enjoy wearing sunscreen every day.

Sunscreen Types

Chemical sunscreens frequently contain ingredients that may harm coral. Mineral sunscreens, are considered physical sunscreens vs. chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens are considered “safe” for the use around coral reefs.

Sunscreens come in many different textures:

  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Spray Mists
  • Face sticks

Final Thoughts

When deciding what sunscreen to get, think about your skin, but also about the environment. A good sunscreen should be water and sweat resistant, non-greasy, very hydrating, and absorbing quickly. Moreover, it should be clean and non-toxic, made without harmful ingredients. Biodegradable sunscreen is not only good for you, it is also benefitting the oceans and marine world.

Wear sunscreen daily and get your skin checked yearly. Skin cancer does not discriminate and spreads very fast if it goes undetected. Stay safe in the sun!


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. The publisher of this content does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, skincare product, or lifestyle program.

Plant Mother Editorial Team
Plant Mother's editorial team consists of skincare experts, dermatologists, and enthusiasts who love all things natural, vegan, and organic. They contribute to the Plant Mother blog, a comprehensive resource on skincare products, ingredients, and beauty how to’s.