Summer has come and gone, but it is still important to protect your skin and the environment from the sun even during the off seasons.

When preparing for a socially distant day in the sun, sunscreen is the first thing I grab. But jumping into the ocean, even with dried sunscreen, will leave residual sunscreen particles–and depending on what sunscreen you’re wearing—will leave behind harmful sunscreen particles. 

What has become most apparent is that sunscreen is a protective measure that is poorly regulated and only loosely defined. Sunscreens that market themselves as “reef-safe” or “sunblock” or as any SPF higher than 60 are misleading. Ultimately, it is unclear what active ingredients are causing harm to our coral reefs, and the term “reef-safe” has not been regulated, so companies can use it whether or not their product is environmentally safe. 

There is no clear consensus of what constitutes a “good” sunscreen, but if you are looking for sunblock that is both better (but not great) for the environment and good (again, but not great) at blocking all UV rays, here’s what you should look for: 

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • SPF 60 or under
  • Cream-based sunscreens

Ultimately, the best ways to protect your skin and the environment are to cover your skin with long sleeves, hats, etc., and to avoid being in the direct sunlight during peak sun hours. Of course, sunscreen is better than no sun protection–so, it’s all about finding the right sunscreen that meets your skin needs, budget, and environmental ethics. 

If you would like to do further reading, here are the references:

Photo credit: Jean Philippe Delberghe via Pexels