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What does reef safe sunscreen mean?

We should start by explaining the terms “reef safe” and “reef friendly" are not regulated by the FDA, and their growing use is largely due to the sunscreen industry’s desire to attract eco-conscience consumers.

The trouble is common sunscreen makers are adding “reef safe” to their sunscreens when in fact, their ingredients are unsafe for reef and coral systems. Let’s break down what makes a TRULY Reef Safe product.

1. A reef safe sunscreen ONLY contains non-nano zinc oxide or non-nano titanium dioxide. (Non-nano particles means larger mineral molecules that do not enter and harm marine biosystems.)

2. A reef safe sunscreen contains NO petrochemicals, either in its active or inactive ingredients.


Hawaiian Sunscreen Ban

Some of the confusion around the term “reef safe sunscreen” is due in large part with the recent sunscreen ban in Hawaii. The ban is well meaning, but only focused on two specific petrochemicals (oxybenzone and octinoxate). The ban is a good first step in making sunscreens safer, but unfortunately, it has caused several significant misunderstandings.

But as we’ve mentioned, the fact is that sunscreens with ANY petrochemicals, (including avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate), are dangerous to both humans and marine live, and that’s because these chemicals are direct oil derivatives, and not at all matched to human or marine biosystems.


What "reef safe sunscreen” means to common sunscreen makers

Many sunscreen manufactures have removed oxybenzone and octinoxate from their formulas and added REEF SAFE to the front of their bottles. The Hawaiian ban, for example, allows petrochemical sunscreens that don’t contain the 2 banned ingredients to make bogus claims that they are “reef safe” – simply because they don’t contain those ingredients.

The truth is, we just don’t have enough research proving other petrochemicals are a very similar threat to reef systems.

For example, avobenzone is the common sunscreen industry's replacement for oxybenzone. But avobenzone is clearly mismatched to human biochemistries, and although sellers of avobenzone products tend to claim it is safe for humans and reefs, the molecular structures of oxyBENZONE and avoBENZONE are extremely similar, and both do bad things to users and waterways, especially over the long term.


What "reef safe sunscreen” should mean to concerned shoppers

About 25% of sunscreen applied to the skin is released into the water within 20 minutes of submersion in the ocean or lake. When we shower, these chemicals wash off our skin and can pollute wastewater that ends up in the ocean as well.

As corals absorb sunscreen petrochemicals, their reaction is similar to corals in high ocean water temperatures. Additionally, the presence of petrochemicals in seawater allows viruses to thrive, putting corals at high risk of catching an infection that could lead to bleaching and death.

Please read all sunscreen ingredients and choose products with either non-nano zinc oxide or non-nano titanium dioxide as active ingredients.


What "reef safe sunscreen” means to Waxhead

We make our products with only top-quality, non-nano zinc oxide as their active ingredient, and they contain NO petrochemicals.

We’re not the only maker of high-quality non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens, but we’re one of the very few with rigorous, formal education in biochemistry, which allows us to formulate sunscreens that work well and defend the long term health of the user and our oceans.


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 Reef 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.





What does reef safe sunscreen mean?

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