Biodegradable Sunscreen: The Reef-Friendly Skincare Product

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “sunscreen”? Most of you will immediately get the idea that it is one of the popular beauty care products that focus on sun protection. Some love sunscreen products with SPF 30. Meanwhile, others who like outdoor activities prefer SPF 50, which can protect skin from UV radiation more effectively and for longer. And now, have you heard about biodegradable sunscreen?

With more and more sunscreen products popping up, a few still need to learn or consider the environmental impacts of the common sunscreen ingredients they use. Hence, we will gladly discuss biodegradable sunscreen, which will be a human-friendly sunscreen alternative and also reef-friendly.

Since it is 100% biodegradable, the natural sunscreen ingredient will naturally break down without harming the environment. Crave for more info? Let’s dig in!

About Biodegradable Sunscreen

Reef-safe sunscreen products are indeed recommended to replace traditional sunscreen. But have you wondered why our current beauty care products are not the best for the environment? Do they contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to coral reefs? And what are the impacts on the environment?

Find out all the answers in the following sections.

Biodegradable Sunscreen
About Biodegradable Sunscreen

1. Harmful Chemical In Common Sunscreens

Little did we know that our everyday sunscreen hides various chemicals harmful to humans and the environment. A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that these chemicals are common ingredients in sunscreen products marketed across the U.S. and European Union countries.

These toxic substances also leave traces even after you stop using them for a while. So, what are those chemicals that produce potential harmful sunscreen products?


BP-3 or more famous as Oxybenzone, is an organic compound that is pale yellow in color. This chemical includes common sunscreen brands to protect your sensitive skin type from UV radiation. Nonetheless, it comes with consequences.

A study mentioned that BP-3 is extremely toxic to young corals as it can alter abnormal skeletal development. Besides, it also triggers bleaching, genotoxicity (DNA damage), and overall deformities in early coral growth.


Like Oxybenzone, Homosalate is an organic compound with a sun protection factor. Particularly against the short rays of UV-B. This ultraviolet can stimulate skin cancer. However, adding chemicals to our sunscreen is apparently not a win-win solution.

It is reported that Homosalate causes endocrine disruption as it interferes with estrogen hormones. Even more concerning, it is found in breast milk cells! The outer layer of our skin also absorbs this chemical, which can boost the absorption of pesticides through the skin.


Having the ability to neutralize UV exposure on human skin, Octocrylene belongs to the common sunscreen ingredients you can find everywhere. It also has a moisturizing effect that is favorable for dry skin. Unfortunately, its harmful effects on human health are horrendous. Octocrylene may stimulate the production of free radicals, damaging DNA. And surprisingly, it can also trigger melanoma or skin cancer.


In sun defense products on the market, Octinoxate is useful for protecting against exposure to UV-B rays. It doesn’t dissolve in water, making it preferable to produce a water-proof sunscreen for swimming. However, you need to be careful of the adverse health effects of Octinoxate.

Similar to Homosalate, it disrupts human hormones, like thyroids which are important for metabolic processes. Besides, it can lead to a decrease in the estradiol and progesterone hormones, which will later cause miscarriages and infertility. If you have such symptoms, they will sadly pass to your offspring.

2. What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Maybe you’re wondering, what’s the difference between biodegradable sunscreens and the common ones currently on the market? Alright, let us explain it one by one in easy terms!

biodegradable sunscreen
What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen

Biodegradable sunscreens are sun defense products that protect your skin from UV rays from the sun and our environment. Thus, they are also known as eco-sunscreen or environmentally friendly sunscreen products. The eco-friendly sunscreen also uses safe chemicals that are 100% biodegradable. Hence, it is a human-friendly alternative sunscreen you need to consider replacing your current one.

 In contrast, the market’s mere focus on common sunscreens is to offer the best products without concern for the environmental impacts. Generally, they made it from harmful chemicals, which are dangerous for our coastal and marine life.

3. What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen Made Of?

Unlike the widely marketed sunscreen, biodegradable sunscreen ingredients are generally mineral-based. Two minerals are FDA-approved to make reef-safe sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Zinc oxide is a GRASE ingredient that is safe to use, even though the FDA allows a maximum concentration of 25% for sunscreen brands. It is also reported to have zero penetration into the skin even if you use sunscreen regularly. Even though the ingredients are not as effective as the chemical ones, they are perfect for sensitive skin.

Biodegradable Sunscreen
What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen Made Of

Similar to zinc oxide, titanium dioxide is also labeled GRASE (Generally Regarded As Safe and Effective). In sunscreen, the mineral filters the UV exposure even though it doesn’t apply to the long rays. Considering its safety, the FDA even allows titanium dioxide-based sunscreen for children up to 6 months old. However, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles are harmful to the environment and carcinogenic for humans.

4. Type Of Sunscreen

When choosing a sunscreen, you must know what type of sunscreen you need. Generally, there are two types of sunscreens on the market today: chemical and physical. What are the differences between the two? Read carefully the explanation below!

Chemical Sunscreen

As the name implies, chemical sunscreen is made from a mixture of chemical ingredients (scroll up to learn more about them!). What makes chemical sunscreens effective is that they will be absorbed by your skin and absorb UV rays to later be converted to heat. Your skin will further release it from your body. Considering this nature, these products may not be suitable for sensitive skin. In addition, it takes time for the chemicals to work effectively, usually around 20 minutes.

Chemical type
Chemical Sunscreen

Hence, the advance application is required before your skin is exposed to the sun. In addition, sunscreens still pass long exposure to UV-A rays on your skin as they can penetrate deeper skin layers. The advantages of chemical sunscreens are that they do not leave a white cast, are more affordable, and are widely accessible. Some examples of chemical sunscreens are Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 70 and Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 PA+++.

Physical Sunscreen

Basically, a physical sunscreen is a mineral-based sunscreen considered coral safe. How so? It’s because they are made from active natural ingredients (minerals) that are 100% biodegradable, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

The working principle of the two minerals is different from chemical sunscreen products. They block the UV radiation, scattering the light exactly like a mirror! Thus, they can work immediately as the sunscreen is not absorbed by the skin. Another advantage of a physical sunscreen is that it offers total protection against UVA and UVB.

The ingredients are also safer for our health and the environment. But please don’t buy the spray, as the nanoparticles can expose your lungs. Also, they can settle in the sand and contaminate water sources (e.g., the sea). In addition, physical sunscreen will give you a thin layer of white cast and is easy to wash off. So, reapplication is necessary. Some examples of these mineral-based sunscreens are Banana Boat Reef-Friendly SPF 30 Sunscreen and Reef Repair SPF 50 Sunscreen.

5. Why Should We Use Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Sunscreen protects from UV radiation that consists of 10% of total sun exposure. The radiation itself can trigger skin cancer up to chronic eye injuries. Hence, sunscreen is a product you must not skip, especially for those who have intense outdoor activities.

Unfortunately, not all sunscreen products are safe to use, both for us and the environment. These products contain harmful chemicals, such as oxybenzone, homosalate, octocrylene, and octinoxate, which can adversely affect your health.

biodegradable sunscreen
Why Should We Use Biodegradable Sunscreen

Most of them can penetrate your skin and leak into your bloodstream, interfering with hormonal activities and damaging the DNA. In fact, some of these products are found in your cells even after stopping using them.

Moreover, those with sensitive skin may find these products uncomfortable due to their heat-release nature. The heat can accelerate brown spots formation. They also increase the risks of acne as they can clog pores. What a shocking truth! No wonder some countries banned the chemicals, given their negative impacts.

As for the environment, data from the U.S. The Department of the Interior reported that around 4000 to 6000 sunscreens are in the ocean yearly. Of course, it is a catastrophic event our coral reefs must endure. Not to mention that those products contain the chemicals mentioned above, which can disrupt the development of baby corals and bleach their beautiful colors. How sad!

Knowing that in 2018, 84.20% of the sunscreen cream market was dominated by chemical sunscreens, the facts above are very worrying. Moreover, these products are predicted to continue to dominate the market for the next few years. The data does not include the market size of sunscreen sprays. Imagine how significant the effect on our environment would be if we don’t act now?

Therefore, switching your sunscreen to biodegradable sunblock or sunscreen is highly recommended. You can have a product that is safe for yourself while contributing to saving our sea animals and corals from the terrible effects. As a user, we have to be more careful in purchasing our skincare from now on, for the sake of our future generations. And most importantly, our health and environment.

How To Know If Sunscreen Is Biodegradable?

By reaching this point, we assume you have read all the essential information discussed above. So, it is relatively easy to tell whether your sunscreen is biodegradable. It’s not by the packaging but by the ingredients! Here are some tips you can try:

  • FDA only approves zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as GRASE (Generally Regarded As Safe and Effective) ingredients for sunscreen. Therefore, you can first check both ingredients on the list. However, it is not necessarily necessary to contain these two minerals. One is enough to claim it is biodegradable.
  • Physical sunscreens, especially those with titanium dioxide, commonly leave a white cast on your skin after applying the product. If you notice such things, your sunscreen is likely biodegradable.
  • Your sunscreen is not a spray type! Despite having both GREASE sunscreen ingredients, the spray sunscreen will pollute the beaches, and the particles will later be flushed away by the waves.
  • Avoid loose powder sunscreen since the FDA still requires more data about its safety. Besides, such a product can contaminate the beach with its tiny particles. And so, it is not biodegradable.
biodegradable sunscreen
Why Should We Use Biodegradable Sunscreen

How Do You Make Homemade Biodegradable Sunscreen?

If you want to experiment with formulating your own DIY biodegradable sunblock or sunscreens, here is a list of step-by-steps on making one. They made it from natural ingredients that can easily be human-friendly sunscreen alternative handmade products.

But remember, it may not be as effective as the manufacturer-made products since you don’t conduct any tests to check on its SPF. Well, let’s dive in!

  • Add ½ cup of coconut oil into a metal bowl. You can also mix it up between ¼ coconut oil and ¼ olive or jojoba oil. Avocado and almond oils are also welcome as long as the ratio is 1:1.
  • Next, pour ¼ cup of beeswax. Then mix it all.
  • Then, add inches of water into a saucepan on medium heat. Place the metal bowl in the pot.
  • Check on the bowl’s bottom surface. Don’t let it touch the water, as it must be hung on the pot.
  • After that, you must stir the mixture carefully until they melt entirely.
  • Now, turn off the heat and add a non-nano, uncoated powder of zinc dioxide. Use a mask and gloves while handling these particles. Mix them evenly.
  • Prepare dark jars, then pour them into them.
  • Store them out of sun exposure and in a dry, cool place. We recommend storing them in a fridge if it still melts.
  • You can add more beeswax to make the sunscreen thicker.

Natural Alternative Sunscreen Ingredients

Instead of buying a potentially harmful sunscreen, some people prefer to seek alternatives from natural ingredients around which have a sun protection factor. They are widely accessible and won’t cost you a lot! What are those?

1. Coconut Oil

It’s no wonder coconut oil is a favorite ingredient in natural sunscreen. Apparently, it offers protection against UV radiation around 20%. Besides that, coconut oil moisturizes your skin. Thus, it is perfect for those with dry skin. Also, it makes your skin feel softer and plump!

However, we strongly recommend mixing the coconut oil with at least SPF 30 sunscreen to get the best protection. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can replace it with almond, olive, sesame or jojoba oil. They work just fine!

Coconut and Aloe Vera
Coconut and Aloe Vera

2. Aloe Vera

So far, we know that aloe vera is a natural gem for caring for hair, making it thick, shiny, and not easily broken. Surprisingly, it also works as an alternative sunscreen if you don’t have access to it. Like coconut oil, aloe vera can protect around 20% against UV exposure. But again, you must frequently reapply it. Or, mix it with other sunscreen products with great SPF (e.g., SPF 30 or SPF 50).

3. Shea Butter

Despite having the lowest SPF level (max only 10!), you can still use it if you wish to stay at home all day long. It is rich in vitamins, especially A and E, which also act as natural antioxidants. Hence, shea butter is a great ingredient to prevent radical damage that can trouble your skin. This natural ingredient also works amazingly to avoid sunburn, just like aloe vera.

Final Thought

When choosing the best sunscreen, you must consider its ingredients. It is crucial not only for your health but also for the environment. Some chemicals, like oxybenzone and homosalate, are extremely detrimental to both aspects. To replace them, biodegradable ones are the correct answer!

Nonetheless, you must ensure they contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Both of those already approved by FDA. With them, you can guarantee your sunscreens are actually biodegradable. Also, avoid the spray ones! Despite having those GRASE ingredients, they harm our coastal, and marine life as the nano-particles contaminate the beach and the sea. 

Latest Post :

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is biodegradable sunscreen the same as reef friendly?

Biodegradable sunscreen is now popular because it is more environmentally friendly to the environment. It is also known as reef-safe sunscreens, so both terms are the same! People start to consider these products as they can naturally break down.

This reef friendly product does not contain harmful chemicals, such as oxybenzone, homosalate, avobenzone, etc. Generally, eco-friendly sunscreen made of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is the best for the environment.

Is zinc oxide sunscreen biodegradable?

Along with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide is among the safest biodegradable sunscreen ingredients. Thus, it often includes the production of mineral-based sunscreen. However, it doesn’t apply to nano zinc oxide.

Due to its nano-particle sizes, this ingredient harms marine life, especially corals and fish. Besides, their easy solubility makes these nano minerals easily separate into Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and toxic zinc ions. Both are detrimental to the environment, especially when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

What ingredient in sunscreen is killing the reefs?

Among several harmful chemicals, traditional sunscreen contains oxybenzone which is harmful to coral reefs, especially the juvenile ones. This is proven by research from scientists in 2016 who observed this detrimental impact on the reef.

Coral and sea anemones are reported to convert oxy benzene into a toxic chemical that will later be released into the ocean. Sadly, it is still widely used in sunscreen brands to protect skin from UV radiation.

Why is spray sunscreen not reef safe?

Although the sun protection product contains natural sunscreen ingredients, it is not environmentally friendly and coral safe if the sunscreen brand uses sprays for the product. The spray sunscreen contains nanoparticle chemicals that harm marine life, such as fish, reefs, and anemones.

Those tiny particles will settle on the beach sands and be flushed away by the waves into the sea. So, it’s better to apply eco-sunscreen cream that is reef-friendly and safe for your sensitive skin type.