An article on sunscreens has a drawing of a bottle on the beach.
Illustration by Alex Suarez, Columbia College Chicago

Sunscreens That Aren’t Shady: Clean Options for Summer

While conventional products can damage the environment, these brands will help protect you and the ocean during the sunny season.

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An article on sunscreens has a drawing of a bottle on the beach.
Illustration by Alex Suarez, Columbia College Chicago

While conventional products can damage the environment, these brands will help protect you and the ocean during the sunny season.

Sunscreen is an effective way to protect against sunburn and damage, but not every brand is equally good for your skin or the environment. Whether it’s a bottle of everyday light SPF or a product made for heavy rays, expect more from your sunscreen. This guide will help you pick from the long rows of sunscreens on store shelves to find the cleanest option for you this summer.

While many popular brands of sunscreen may minimize sunburn and sun damage, they can also cause unintended environmental harm. In recent years, there has been increased attention on the best types of “clean” sunscreen ingredients. Sunscreen that washes off in the ocean or goes down our drains while we shower often contains harmful components that can damage coral reefs and ocean life — some marine species affected by these tricky chemicals include fish, dolphins and shellfish; even ocean water health can be hurt by contamination from a sunscreen’s chemicals. Certain ingredients can cause coral bleaching or harm the immune systems and the overall growth of other marine life. Generally, the chemicals professionals recommend avoiding for “reef safety” are:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene

Though this is not a comprehensive list, a quick scan of sunscreen labels may help rule out a bottle or two. Luckily, many online guides can help determine if a sunscreen will adversely affect your skin or the environment. Products labeled “mineral-based” use physical instead of chemical blockers to protect from damaging UV rays, which are gentler on the skin and are naturally sourced.

Purchasing a safe sunscreen is also easier than ever as many companies have started to produce healthy and reef-safe alternatives, while others have refined their formulas for years and specialize in these products. Sustainably made sunscreen brands frequently have more transparency in ingredients, company processes, coverage and protection. Buyers may be hesitant to ditch their typical sunscreen for a new one as “sustainable” is often seen as synonymous with “expensive,” but many clean sunscreens are affordable and readily available. Here are a few sunscreens that can be found in virtually any store and will match any budget:


Supergoop! is a sunscreen and beauty line with a wide selection of products that have been on the market for over 15 years. Supergoop! is more than a catchy name; the company creates reef-friendly, cruelty-free products and prioritizes sustainably made packaging.

Supergoop! covers many of the basics needed to protect skin, including many that the average buyer may not think of. From everyday face sunscreen to SPF body lotions to even eyeshadow with sun protection, Supergoop! has perfected a formula for every use. The brand has seen exponential growth as new customers discover its many benefits. Because of its wide range of products and affordable prices, “Supergoop!” is the perfect brand to start your SPF search.


The brand COOLA has been making big waves in the sunscreen industry and you can find it in almost any drugstore or supermarket. With an emphasis on organic, reef-safe and vegan ingredients, COOLA produces skincare products with SPF — and ingredients anyone can get behind. Many consumers like COOLA for its spray-on sunscreen mist, an easy and convenient way to apply sunscreen people love. The company also produces skincare products with SPF and has a variety of lotion-based creams that will leave your skin hydrated and protected. Plenty of COOLA brand products for those with sensitive skin are fragrance-free and will soothe and not irritate the skin.

First Aid Beauty

First Aid Beauty is known for its focus on delicate ingredients that have a lightweight application and are suitable for everyday use. Ideal for individuals who want a quick add-on to their morning routine, sunscreens by First Aid Beauty are anti-aging, dermatologist-recommended, cruelty-free and fragrance-free. First Aid Beauty is mineral-based, meaning you’re getting natural coverage with no extra fuss. And while their lower SPFs are not recommended for beach days or heavy sun exposure, they make a great daily sunscreen by a trusted, clean brand. The company’s products can be found in most beauty stores and select retailers, though the online selection also offers many choices.

Native Sunscreen

Native is a well-loved brand for natural shampoos and deodorants that make health and the environment the top two priorities. Loyal consumers enjoy the company’s signature scents and reasonable prices, making the recent addition of Native sunscreen a win for many. The formula includes 97% plant and mineral-derived ingredients, making it not only reef-safe but also fit for any skin tone. Native formulated its sunscreen line to feel weightless and smooth by avoiding the signature white smears many sunscreens leave on skin. The products layer well with any other skincare or personal products used, making Native a perfect new summer find.

Alba Botanica Hawaiian

These clean sunscreens have a selection of light, summery scents complementing any beach day. With biodegradable packaging, paraben and sulfate-free, and even plant-based components, Alba Botanica Hawaiian eliminates harmful ingredients in their hair, body and sun products. Featuring a range of options from fragrance-free to scents like mango, lavender and coconut, this company is perfect for purchasers who want a little more out of their sunscreen without having to pay luxury prices. Alba Botanica is also conveniently sold at various stores and is a staple in the clean sunscreen lineup.

Though this list may provide guidance on which sunscreen brands to look out for, it is essential to note that everyone’s skin type and SPF needs can vary. Don’t be afraid to explore new brands until you find the right sunscreen fit for you. Since sunscreen is essential to skin health all year round, it’s important to enjoy the brand you use. Learning about the potential harms or downsides of beauty products can be intimidating. However, it opens the possibility of discovering new and healthy options for your skin and sun care.

Writer Profile

Vanessa Rivera

James Madison University
Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication (WRTC) and a minor in Creative Writing

Vanessa is a writing, rhetoric and technical communication major and creative writing minor at James Madison University in Virginia. When she’s not reading and writing she loves baking and making long Spotify playlists.

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