Five Eco-Friendly, Reef Friendly Sunscreens from Credible Brands

Mikael Colville-Andersen
7 min readFeb 24, 2023

If navigating the growing market for sustainable products seems sometimes daunting, then the massive sunscreen market can feel like a confusing minefield peppered with glossy marketing and greenwashing.

Let me just get this out there: every year, 14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up in the world’s oceans.

You rub it on to protect your skin and then you take a swim — or have a shower later — and wash it all off. Far too many sunscreens contain chemicals that are incredibly harmful to our oceans and the life in them like coral reefs, as well as to your body. It’s a good thing that many destinations are in the process of banning toxic sun care products — and more of that, please.

In addition to the harm caused to coral, sunscreen can decrease fertility in fish; accumulate in dolphins; damage the immune systems of sea urchins and deform their young; and impair photosynthesis in algae.

This proved to be a tricky list to research and write because sun care is such a massive market. By 2025, it’ll be worth €11 billion a year, globally. It’s also a wildly diverse market, with loads of regional and national brands. So there might be a cool product from a small company in the USA, but half a billion Europeans don’t have access to it.

So I’ve found five great suncare products that are accessible to a broad range of readers. Interestingly, very few brands I reviewed have a SPF20 version on the shelf, even though this is the norm in Northern Europe. The Danish Cancer Society has said that you don’t need more than SPF20 in the northern part of the continent.

How to Choose Sunscreen

In such a monster market, it can feel like a minefield for the consumer. It’s important to weed out the wannabes and identify blatant greenwashing. Maybe they concoct a good sunscreen but they don’t have any information about their production methods, packaging and social responsibility goals. It’s also wise to be wary of non-European products as many of them are not subject to our stricter environmental guidelines.

The American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has made some certification improvements but the European Union, for example, has proposed a limit of 2.2% for oxybenzone and 1.4% for homosalate — two chemicals you don’t want to know. In the US, concentrations of 6% and 15% respectively are allowed. That’s a big difference. Add to that the even higher focus on harmful chemicals here in the Nordic countries, which does make it easier to make good consumer choices if you live here.

Reaction — and Distraction

As consumers we also have to navigate an eclectic world of certifications — and boasting. Many sunscreens include the label Reef Friendly on their packaging and that’s generally a good thing to look for. It’s not only the reefs that are affected, but this seems to be the go-to advertising slogan to signal that a product is taking the oceans seriously. But there are so many other badges for certifications that are slapped onto products and websites that it boggles the mind. Who are they? Where are they? How credible are they? In the North American market you also see declarations that a product is soy, gluten, nut free and/or vegan and not tested on animals, which can only cause more confusion.

You often have to dig deep on product websites in an attempt to decipher what level of corporate transparency you’re dealing with. Do they just donate to NGOs to offset their production or do they both talk the talk AND walk the walk in every step of the process?

What Keywords to Look For on Labels




Titanium dioxide

EWG Verified

North Americans can look for the Protect Land and Sea certification

What Ingredients to Avoid on Labels

Aerosol sunscreens

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate and Octocrylene

Benzophenone-1 & Benzophenone-8


4-Methylbenzylidene camphor

3-Benzylidene camphor

— — —

With all that said, here’s a list of five eco-friendly sunscreen products from credible brands for you to consider when you hit the beach.

Solara: Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Body Sunscreen

Solara Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Daily Sunscreen

First up is Solara and their Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Daily Sunscreen. Solara is about as transparent as you can get on their website. They let you know in no uncertain terms that they source responsibly, are reef safe and cruelty-free and their packaging is fully recyclable and FSC certified.

It’s an American brand but they proudly declare that they remove 1500+ ingredients banned by the European Union and that they pass not only the weaker American test standards, but the much stricter European SPF test standards. That’s a level of commitment I like.

They have elegantly designed packaging and visual identity, as well. I couldn’t find any 20 SFP that is popular in Northern Europe, though.

Website: Solara

Raw Elements — Face + Body Tin

Raw Elements Face+Body Certified Natural Sunscreen

An American brand with a global sales presence, Raw Elements has a strong sustainable packaging profile, as well as ticking all the boxes for environmentally-safe sun protection. It is one of the few brands I’ve seen that mention that the zinc oxide they use is USP grade, uncoated, sustainably mined and recycled. They also make sure you know their packaging is plastic-free.

Their packaging is designed so that you really have no doubt that it has a strong sustainable profile, although the graphic design style will mostly appeal to the North American segment. They have a proud page on their website about their sustainability focus and I love that kind of transparency. Raw Elements also started World Reef Day as part of their company’s work.

Badger Natural & Organic Sunscreen

Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 40

I guess it’s in the company’s name Badger BALM that they produce all manner of creams and balms, not just sun protection, but their sunscreen seems to fall into the same sustainable category as their other products. This is a family and women-led company based in the US but their products are available to the rest of us through various websites and retailers.

On the page about their company values, they proudly tell the story of how they are engaged every step of the process, from sourcing ingredients, packaging and testing.

Their graphic design is very North American in its style, which might limit its appeal in other regions, but the products themselves seem solid.

Website with Store Locator

Ultrasun Sports Gel SPF 20

Ultrasun Sports Gel SPF20

Ultrasun is a Swiss company with an international profile, particularly in the UK. Everything about his brand is all so very Swiss. From their no-nonsense, pragmatic website to their graphic design — which has a medicinal feel to it — you get the vibe that they stand by their product and that it speaks for itself.

I am usually active in the sun — drinking mojitos should be an Olympic sport — so this sports gel is appealing to me, personally. I like that they have SPF20 products for the massive Northern European market. They have a dry but informative guide to using their products and how much sun you should expose yourself to, which includes a wide range of skin tones. Which is something that struck me while researching this article: the whole sunscreen market is so very white. It’s rare to see references to people of colour in photos on websites but also the products themselves.

Ultrasun also explains the science behind their products on their website.

Website: Ultrasun

Green People Edelweiss Sun Cream

Green People Edelweiss Sun Cream SPF 15

Green People is a brand I see a lot in shops in Denmark that focus on organic products, which is a good indicator of their quality. On their website they list a long line of benefits to using their sunscreen. All the protection you need: reef safe, easy-to-apply formula, 86% organic ingredients and so on. Interestingly, they mention that the sunscreen doesn’t clog your pores which helps battle prickly heat. I fell down a rabbit hole exploring what prickly heat, which is interesting, but great they thought about it.

They are proud about their plant-based packaging, which is fully recyclable, renewable and made out of sugar cane, which they also ensure is farmed on sustainable land. I like companies that offer that kind of transparency.

I like the simple and elegant graphic design, which makes it more accessible to more markets. This is also a family-founded, women-led company, which is great and you can read more about their story.



Mikael Colville-Andersen

Urban designer, author and host of the global documentary series about urbanism, The Life-Sized City. Impatient Idealist.