Reef safe sunscreen for surfers, paddle boarders, and general shenaniganizers

by Nora

It's that time of year (at least up here in the northern hemisphere)- ice cream, cook outs, and ... sunburn? 


If you're anything like me, you love to be out on the water when you have the chance, but the water means you have an even bigger chance of getting a sunburn due to the sun reflecting off the water as well as the sunscreen washing away. 

For years we used our bottles of whatever we could get a the drugstore but in the past few years the dangers of oxybenzones have been splashed into public knowledge. While not dangerous to humans, oxybenzones are causing harm to coral reefs and using them in the ocean or anywhere they can enter the ocean (rivers, creeks, on the beach, etc) can have devastating effects. Oxybenzones weaken corals' defense and allows for coral to bleach/die at a much quicker rate. Coupled with warming oceans and hotter days, oxybenzones are hastening the destruction of our coral reefs.

What can you do to help?

The best thing you can do is stop using sunscreens that have oxybenzone in it. This isn't easy as most major brands continue to use it despite multiple studies showing it's destructive effects. Luckily there are multiple mineral sunscreens that don't have oxybenzonate and I've tested as many as I could get my hands on.

Testing environment: all tests took place in Costa Rica on 85 degree days with full humidity. As a Seattle gal who spends most of her year in the 50s-60s, 85 with full humidity is a sweaty disaster for me. Testing sunscreen in Seattle is... a challenge 

After multiple days sweating my way through yoga, chilling in a swimming pool, and getting tossed around the waves on my surfboard, these are the brands I recommend

  • ThinkSport SPK 50+ - this does. not. come. off. I slathered this on and it lasted through yoga and surfing. It's a zinc based sunscreen, meaning there will be a bit of a white cast, but I'll take a white cast over a red painful glow any day. This is my go to suncreen if I'm going onto the water for any activity. Word of warning- have a loofah or a scrub to get all of this off because the white cast tends to stay on until scrubbed off.
  • Sun Bum Mineral Suncreen SPF 50+ - this has good staying power but I reapply more often than with thinksport. This does not leave as much of a white cast as thinksport so if looking tan in your swimwear is important to you, this is a good option. I'm not a fan of the smell, but it fades pretty quick
  • Badger Sport SPF 35 - my favorite thing about the Badger line of products is that they're mineral based and come in a bunch of varieties (including one with bug repellent and a lavender scented one). Badger uses a clear zinc, so no white cast BUT make sure your skin is moisturized before you put this on. It's very thick and if your skin is dry, putting this on will be a pain. 
  • Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 - this is not my favorite as I have to constantly reapply but this is the easiest mineral sunscreen to find as I've seen it at drugstores and at Target. If you're going out on a run or have the chance to reapply every hour, this works well.

And as always, the easiest way to keep yourself burn-free is to stay covered. All of 124 West's clothing offers UPF 50 sun protection so you can enjoy the sun and not the burn.