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Not ony are these sunscreens biodegradable and reef-safe, but they're quick-absorbing—and won't have you looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost post-application.

By Susan Brickell
March 19, 2019

While your main sunscreen concern might be finding a lightweight, fast-absorbing formula that won't leave your face ghost-white, more and more shoppers are also focusing on the actual ingredients in their SPF.

One reason? Chemical sunscreens that contain ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate are believed by some to contribute to coral bleaching and death. In a 2015 study in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, researchers identified higher concentrations of oxybenzone in coral reefs near tourist areas in Hawaii and the Caribbean. And every little bit of SPF could make a difference: According to the marine conservation organization MarineSafe, one drop of oxybenzone in the equivalent of six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water could damage coral. (It's important to note, however, that there continues to be debate among the scientific community about the exact effects these ingredients have on coral reefs.)

Still, some legislators aren't taking chances. The state of Hawaii and Key West, Florida have recently passed bills that ban certain types of chemical sunscreens that proponents believe contribute to coral bleaching. As a result, there's been more interest among consumers lately in "chemical-free," "biodegradable," and "reef-safe" SPF lotions, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

But what do these terms actually mean? Biodegradable or reef-friendly sunscreens refer to formulas that break down over time and don't contain ingredients believed to be harmful to ocean life. This typically means that they don't contain chemical UV filters, and instead use mineral blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect against broad spectrum rays, explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Mineral sunscreens could also be a better choice for certain skin types. Without potentially irritating ingredients like octinoxate, oxybenzone, butylparaben, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, biodegradable sunscreens are ideal for those with sensitive skin or allergies, notes New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD.

If using biodegradable sunscreen is important to you, reach for one of these reef-safe SPF formulas.

RELATED: The Best Moisturizers With SPF, According to This Expert Group's Annual Report

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