What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Some travel destinations require its use for environmental reasons

Biodegradable sunscreen offers protection from UV rays without most of the chemical ingredients often found in regular sunscreens. Also dubbed "reef-safe" or "coral-safe," it's considered to be eco-friendly in that it will not damage plant or animal life as it washes off your skin in the water.

Aruba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and some other travel destinations now require that residents and visitors only use biodegradable sunscreen. In fact, stores in these locations don't sell any other kind. Nonbiodegradable sunscreens may even be confiscated.

This article covers what makes a sunscreen biodegradable, how these products help the environment, and if they are as effective as regular sunscreens. It also lists several biodegradable sunscreen brands and buying tips.

Man putting sun screen on woman
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Ingredients Missing From Biodegradable Sunscreen

Ingredients in biodegradable sunscreens vary based on the manufacturer, but they are free of the following chemical ingredients that are known to harm the ecosystem:

  • PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)
  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • 4-methyl benzylidene
  • Camphor
  • Butylparaben

How These Ingredients Harm the Environment

Biodegradable sunscreens do not contain these ingredients because they can have a widespread impact on plants and animals.

The National Ocean Service reports many ways traditional sunscreen chemicals can affect the environment. For example, these chemicals can:

  • Build up in coral, damaging its DNA and killing it off
  • Decrease reproduction in fish
  • Cause defects in young mussels
  • Inhibit the growth of algae that marine life feeds on
  • Damage the immune and reproductive systems of sea urchins

Biodegradable Sunscreen Brands

There are several brands of biodegradable sunscreen. Some popular options that may be amongst the easiest to find are covered here.

With growing consumer awareness about the environmental impact of sunscreens, the choices are sure to expand.

Caribbean Sol

This Orlando-based company has provided all-natural sunscreen products for more than a decade. Caribbean Sol's line includes various biodegradable sunscreen lotions, sprays, and skin-healing products.

Notable products include the Natural Sunscreen Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 lotion and spray.

Sun Bun

Since 2010, Sun Bun's mission has been to provide environmentally-friendly sunscreen products.

Their Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion is one of their best-selling products, but they also make hair, lip, and apparel products.

Raw Elements

Based in Huntington Beach, California, Raw Elements has been providing organic sunscreen products since 2012. From face and body sunscreens to lip balms and skin tonics, they offer various skin products with environmentally-safe ingredients and packaging.

Their Face & Body SPF 30 lotion is one of their highly-rated products and is available in tin and tube packaging.


Founded in 1995, this New Hampshire-based company provides natural body products. In addition to sunscreen, Badger's offerings includes bug and outdoor, hair, aromatherapy, and shaving products.

They are known for their Sport Mineral Sunscreen lotions that are available in tin and tube packaging.

Hawaiian Tropic

Established in 1969, Hawaiian Tropic has long provided sunscreen products to consumers. Their Hawaiian Tropic Skin Defense Lotion is their featured sunscreen product.

When Buying Biodegradable Sunscreen

You may have the best luck finding a biodegradable sunscreen online or in a health food or organic speciality store.

If you are shopping in a regular drugstore, look for mineral (not chemical) formulations. Ingredients that are safer for the environment include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Examine the product label to make sure none of the problematic ingredients listed above are included.

Look for labels that include the words "biodegradable," "reef-safe," or "coral-safe." Sunscreens labeled "PABA-free" are not always the same as biodegradable sunscreens, as they may contain other chemicals that are not environmentally friendly.

Biodegradable sunscreen may also be sold at your travel destination, but remember that it may cost considerably more there than if you purchased it ahead of your trip.

Is Biodegradable Sunscreen As Effective As Regular Sunscreen?

When used correctly, biodegradable sunscreens are just as effective as regular sunscreens. Most biodegradable sunscreen brands offer several varieties of SPF (sun protection factor, like 15, 30, or 50), just like regular sunscreen brands.

The consistency and drying time of the sunscreen may be different from what you are used to, though, so be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for application and reapplication.

Some people find that biodegradable sunscreen is thicker or dries faster than regular sunscreen, but this depends on the brand.

Should People With Sunscreen Allergies Consider Biodegradable Sunscreen?

A dermatologist may recommend biodegradable sunscreen for a person whose skin is allergic or sensitive to regular sunscreen, but this certainly is not the only option for people who have allergies.

Many people have a specific allergy to PABA, so choosing a PABA-free sunscreen may be sufficient for everyday use—even if it is not biodegradable.

Some people may find it helpful to have a skin patch test done by a dermatologist (medical doctor specializing in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails) to determine what specific sunscreen ingredient they are allergic to.


While regular sunscreen might protect you from harmful UV rays, the chemicals it contains can wash off of your skin, mix with ocean water, and threaten marine and plant life.

Biodegradable sunscreen, on the other hand, does not contain these harmful chemicals and, therefore, doesn't pose these risks.

To be sure your sunscreen is safe for the environment, look for the word "biodegradable" on product labels and use sunscreens that only contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is biodegradable sunscreen the same as reef-safe?

    Yes, it is. Both terms refer to sunscreens that do not contain ingredients that can harm marine life or coral reefs.

  • Is zinc oxide sunscreen biodegradable?

    Yes, it is. It is a common ingredient in biodegradable sunscreens.

  • Is biodegradable sunscreen allergy-friendly?

    Generally, yes. Many people who have allergies to sunscreen are allergic to the synthetic ingredients in it. Biodegradable sunscreen contains minerals that are often gentler on the skin.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Danovaro R, Bongiorni L, Corinaldesi C. Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral InfectionsEnvironmental Health Perspectives. 2008;116(4):441-447. doi:10.1289/ehp.10966

  2. Suh HW, Lewis J, Fong L, et al. Biodegradable bioadhesive nanoparticle incorporation of broad-spectrum organic sunscreen agents. Bioengineering & Translational Medicine. 2019;4(1):129-140. doi:10.1002/btm2.10092

  3. Hernández-Pedraza M, Caballero-Vázquez JA, Peniche-Pérez JC, Pérez-Legaspi IA, Casas-Beltran DA, Alvarado-Flores J. Toxicity and hazards of biodegradable and non-biodegradable sunscreens to aquatic life of Quintana Roo, MexicoSustainability. 2020;12(8):3270. doi:10.3390/su12083270

  4. National Ocean Service. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs.

  5. Sun Bum. Sun bum biodegradable sunscreen.

  6. Raw Elements. Our certifications.

  7. Badger. Reef safe sunscreens.

  8. Hawaiian Tropic US. Our story.

  9. Oceanic Society. Reef safe sunscreen: Our guide to ocean-friendly sun protection.

  10. Yoo J, Kim H, Chang H, Park W, Hahn SK, Kwon W. Biocompatible organosilica nanoparticles with self-encapsulated phenyl motifs for effective UV protection. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. 2020;12:9062-9069. doi: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsami.9b21990

Originally written by Lisa Fayed