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Is Neutrogena Sunscreen Reef Safe?

A Comprehensive Analysis

In recent years, "Is Neutrogena Sunscreen Reef Safe?" has become increasingly important to environmentally conscious consumers. As we become more aware of the impact our choices have on the world around us, it's crucial to consider how products affect us personally and our environment. This is particularly true for sunscreens, which can wash off in the ocean and potentially harm marine life. In this article, we will delve into the details of Neutrogena's sunscreen offerings, examining their ingredients and their potential impact on our precious coral reefs.


The Quest for Reef-Safe Sunscreens

In skincare, sunscreen is a non-negotiable essential. However, the environmental impact of our choices is increasingly coming under scrutiny. This article aims to answer the question of many health-conscious outdoor enthusiasts: Is Neutrogena sunscreen reef safe? Let's dive into the science behind this question.


The Environmental Impact of Sunscreen Ingredients

While protecting our skin from harmful UV rays, sunscreen can harm marine life, particularly coral reefs. The main culprits are chemical ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These substances can cause coral bleaching, weakening coral and making it more susceptible to disease and death. But how do Neutrogena sunscreens fare in this regard?


Neutrogena: A Brief History and Overview

Neutrogena Corporation, known simply as Neutrogena, is an American company that produces cosmetics, skincare, and hair care products. Founded in 1930 by Emanuel Stolaroff as a cosmetics company named Natone, it was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1994. The company initially supplied to department stores and salons that catered to the Hollywood film industry. In 2022, Johnson & Johnson's consumer health division, including Neutrogena, was spun off into a separate company named Kenvue Inc. Neutrogena's headquarters are in Los Angeles, California, and its products are distributed in over 70 countries. The company's revenue in 2020 was less than US$ 4 billion. Besides sunscreens, Neutrogena offers a wide range of products, including cosmetics, skincare products, and hair care products.


Neutrogena Sunscreens: A Closer Look

Neutrogena, a globally recognized skincare brand, offers a wide range of sunscreens. Some of these products contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, while others do not. For instance, Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch range, a chemical sunscreen, contains oxybenzone, making it not reef-safe. However, Neutrogena also offers mineral sunscreens, like the Sheer Zinc Face Dry-Touch Sunscreen, which are free from these harmful chemicals, but are loaded with other chemicals.

Let's look at all the ingredients listed in five Neutrogena sunscreens. None of these are reef-safe. The ones containing Zinc Oxide get close, but they use nano (small) zinc oxide particles and thus should not be labeled reef safe.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen: (not reef safe)
Avobenzone, Homosalate, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone. Water, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Beeswax, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Chlorphenesin, Triethanolamine, Disodium EDTA, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, BHT, Methylisothiazolinone, Diethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate, and Fragrance.

Neutrogena Clear Face Break-Out Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen: (not reef safe)
Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Water, Cetyl Dimethicone, Silica, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Steareth-100, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Steareth-2, Dimethicone, Chlorphenesin, Polyester-7, Propylene Glycol, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Disodium EDTA, Bisabolol, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Butylene Glycol, BHT, Mannan, Xanthan Gum, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Capryloyl Glycine, Sarcosine, Cinnamomum Zeylanicum Bark Extract, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, and Cedrus Atlantica Bark Extract.

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen: (not reef safe because it uses nano zinc oxide)
21.6% Zinc Oxide, Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Octyldodecyl Citrate Crosspolymer, Phenyl Trimethicone, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Glycerin, Ethyl Methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Silica, Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew) Flower/Leaf/Stem Juice, Glyceryl Behenate, Phenethyl Alcohol, Caprylyl Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone/Bis-Vinyldimethicone Crosspolymer, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, and Chlorphenesin.

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Mineral Sunscreen: (not reef safe because it uses nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide)
4.9% Titanium Dioxide, 4.7% Zinc Oxide, Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dimethicone, Trisiloxane, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Iron Oxides, Glycerin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, PEG-8 Laurate, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Aluminum Stearate, Alumina, Ethylene Brassylate, Propylene Carbonate, Disodium EDTA, Stearic Acid, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, BHT, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Ascorbic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, and Thiotic Acid.

Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Face Liquid Sunscreen: (not reef safe because it uses nano titanium dioxide)
4.9% Titanium Dioxide, Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Hydroxystearate, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Glycerin, Cetyl Dimethicone, Silica, Phenethyl Alcohol, Colloidal Oatmeal, Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew) Flower/Leaf/Stem Juice, Glyceryl Behenate, Phenyl Trimethicone, Caprylyl Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone/Bis-Vinyldimethicone Crosspolymer, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, and Chlorphenesin.


The Benefits of Mineral Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens, such as those containing non-nano zinc oxide, physically block the sun's rays and are generally safer for the environment. They sit on the skin's surface, unlike chemical sunscreens that can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. This makes them a preferred choice for both personal health and environmental preservation. Neutrogena's mineral sunscreens are non-nano, meaning they do not contain these tiny particles that can harm marine life.


Non-Nano Zinc Oxide is Reef-Safe

To be reef-safe, zinc oxide must be NON-nano, meaning its particles are larger than a nanometer. So-called "clear" or "shear" mineral products grind the zinc oxide to make it appear less white on the skin. Such products use nano-sized zinc oxide, created by crushing the mineral compound into extremely tiny particles, many of which are significantly smaller than a nanometer, so they can quickly enter marine biosystems. Since zinc oxide is toxic to most marine life, these products are NOT reef safe. Neutrogena uses such nanoparticle zinc oxide, so all their mineral sunscreens (and other petrochemical sunscreens) are NOT reef safe. (At Waxhead, we use ONLY non-nano zinc oxide, made by the so-called French press process, which produces zinc oxide particle sizes with a very consistent size so that for a particle to be less than a nanometer, it would need to be more than 13 standard deviations below the average particle size. In layperson's terms, the possibility of any nanoparticles from this process is zero.)

In contrast to nano zinc oxide, NON-nano zinc oxide will NOT enter marine biosystems and will simply fall to the waterway or ocean floor, where it will exist inertly indefinitely since it has a 0 decay rate unless acted upon by a significant outside chemical-reactive event, which cannot occur within oceans or waterways.


The Ambiguity of "Reef Safe" and Other Harmful Ingredients

The term "reef safe" is not regulated, and its definition can vary. While avoiding oxybenzone and octinoxate is a good start, other ingredients in sunscreens can also harm marine life. For instance, octocrylene, another common sunscreen ingredient, is toxic to coral reefs and is present in some Neutrogena sunscreens.


The Importance of Reading Ingredients

It's essential to always read the ingredients in any skincare product, especially one used on kids and people with sensitive skin. Even mineral sunscreens can threaten marine life if they contain nano-sized zinc oxide particles or titanium dioxide. Coral and other aquatic organisms can ingest these tiny particles, causing harm. Make sure your sunscreen lists "non-nano zinc oxide."


Frequently Asked Questions

As we conclude, let's address some common questions.

Is Neutrogena sunscreen reef safe?
The answer depends on the specific product. While some of Neutrogena's sunscreens are free from known harmful ingredients, others are not. Read the labels. We’ve only reviewed the five products above.

Are all mineral sunscreens reef safe?
Not necessarily. Even mineral sunscreens can harm marine life if they contain nano-sized zinc oxide particles or titanium dioxide.

Why is Neutrogena sunscreen considered harmful to reefs?
Neutrogena sunscreen, particularly the chemical-based varieties, often contains ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals have been found to contribute to coral bleaching and can harm marine life when they wash off swimmers or are released into the water through wastewater streams.

Are all Neutrogena sunscreens harmful to reefs?
Not all Neutrogena sunscreens are considered harmful to reefs. Neutrogena does offer mineral-based sunscreens, such as their Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch sunscreen, which uses zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Mineral sunscreens are generally considered to be reef-safe. However, checking the label for additional components that may harm marine life is always important. Remember, if the label doesn’t say “non-nano” zinc oxide, it probably is nano zinc oxide (meaning small particles that can harm marine life).

How can I protect the reefs while protecting my skin from the sun?
To protect the reefs, consider using sunscreens labeled as "reef-safe" or "reef-friendly.” But do not depend on the front of the label only, you must read the ingredients. Sunscreens typically use mineral ingredients like zinc oxide instead of harmful chemicals. Additionally, wearing sun-protective clothing and seeking shade during peak sunlight hours can reduce your reliance on sunscreen.

How can I identify whether sunscreen is reef-safe?
Check the product's active ingredients to identify if a sunscreen is reef-safe. Reef-safe sunscreens typically contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and avoid harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. However, it's important to note that "reef-safe" is not regulated, so it's always best to check the complete ingredient list.

Have any locations banned using non-reef-safe sunscreens?
Yes, some locations with vulnerable reef ecosystems have banned the sale and use of sunscreens containing harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. For example, Hawaii and Mexico have implemented such bans. If you plan to visit a location with coral reefs, it's a good idea to check local regulations and opt for reef-safe sunscreen.

Can I use Neutrogena sunscreens if I'm not going to swim in the ocean?
Yes, if you're not going to be in the ocean or a natural body of water, the potential harm to coral reefs is not a concern. However, it's still important to consider the potential environmental impact of your sunscreen choice. Wastewater from showers and sinks can still end up in the ocean, carrying sunscreen chemicals. Therefore, choosing a reef-safe sunscreen can be a more environmentally friendly choice, regardless of your swimming plans.

Are Neutrogena's mineral sunscreens as effective at protecting against sunburn and skin damage as their chemical sunscreens?
Yes, both mineral and chemical sunscreens can effectively protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays when used correctly. Mineral sunscreens, like those containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, work by reflecting the sun's rays off the skin. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb the sun's rays and convert them into heat. Both types can provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. However, applying a sufficient amount and regularly reapplying is essential, especially after swimming or sweating.


Sunscreen Recommendation

In conclusion, protecting our skin from the sun's harmful rays is crucial, as is preserving our planet's precious coral reefs. We recommend our Waxhead Sunscreens, known for our commitment to skin health and environmental sustainability. By choosing reef-safe sunscreens, we can do our part in protecting these vital ecosystems.





1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.

2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.

3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.




Is Neutrogena Sunscreen Reef Safe?

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