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Natural and Reef Safe Sunscreens!

The Egyptians used rice bran extract, jasmine, and lupine extract in formulas to protect their skin from the sun's harsh rays, repair skin damage and lighten blemishes on their black and brown skin. Shortly after the people of Kemet (Egyptians) started protecting themselves from the sun, other civilizations especially visitors with fair skin caught on. These chemicals are still used today in some of the modern sunscreen products. The bitter variety of the lupine beans are high in alkaloids and are extremely bitter unless rinsed methodically. Low alkaloid cultivars called sweet lupins have been bred, and are increasingly planted as they are a climate resistant crop.

Marine Sanctuaries are home to some of the ocean’s most biologically diverse and culturally significant marine areas, and we need to ensure that these critical areas are protected from harmful chemicals, in addition to other damaging practices like oil and gas extraction

To keep ocean life happy, the key is to find an SPF that uses physical UVA and UVB filters (as opposed to the chemical ones that have been connected to coral reef deterioration).

You’ll be able to find them by flipping the SPF tube over and looking for the active ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients form an actual physical block to shield skin from absorbing any rays (whereas chemical filters absorb UV and turn it into heat that’s released from skin). “The term reef safe typically means that the sunscreen contains only mineral UV-blocking ingredients like oxide and titanium dioxide,” explains Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

“Both nano particle—a smaller particle size—and traditional zinc oxide sunscreens are both safe and effective, and both will be considered safe for reefs. The only difference is the cosmetic feel on the skin.” So you’re pretty much good to go with a mineral-based option.

How do I know if a sunscreen is "reef friendly"?

Unfortunately the term “reef friendly” is not regulated, so you can’t always trust products with this description. It's important to actually check the “active ingredients” label on the back of your sunscreen or personal care product to ensure that reef-harming chemicals are not included. The size of minerals can also have an impact.

Be sure to use micro-sized (or non-nano) mineral sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles, as these smaller particles can be toxic in high concentrations. It’s also advised to stick with lotions and avoid spray or misting sunscreens, especially those that contain titanium dioxide as it can be harmful to your health if inhaled. Finally, it's always good to use products that cut back on single use plastic packaging, either by using containers that are reusable, have high recycled content or are made out of biodegradable plant-based materials like cardboard.

Check the label! Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following harmful substances on the following list:





4-methylbenzylidene camphor




Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized) Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads” Studies have shown that herbal oils contain natural sun protection factors, although most of them remain under SPF 10. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Young Pharmacists, researchers found that calendula oil can be used to protect the skin from UV radiation with an SPF of around 15. Most people used scarves or clothing items to avoid direct sun exposure. Rice, crushed jasmine petals, olive oil, sunflower oil, lupine, pine needles, mud, charcoal, cocoa butter, and burnt almond paste were some of the everyday things that were tried before sunscreen became commercially available.

Brush On Block products are made with 100% mineral active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The full range is cruelty-free, gluten-free, vegan-friendly, reef-friendly, water-resistant up to 80 minutes, and family-friendly. The FDA began regulating sunscreen in 1978. This means that your sunscreen is an over-the-counter drug, just like Tylenol or cough medicine. Because of this, every sunscreen on the market should have a Drug Facts Panel for consumers to read. If you find sunscreen without a Drug Facts Panel, it is not FDA compliant and should be avoided.

Water-resistant sunscreens were invented in 1977 and the FDA only approved a few brands for using this label as they do not allow a product to call itself "waterproof" nor "sunblock". This is because no sunscreen is truly waterproof, and no sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays. The FDA also closely regulates what "active" ingredients (the ones that actually protect from the sun) are allowed to be used in sunscreens. There are 16 approved active ingredients, but only two of those, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are what they call "GRASE" or generally recognized as safe and effective.


In November 2012, the first SPF 50+ sunscreen was sold in Australia. The SPF number represents the number of times longer you can be in the sun when wearing sunscreen. For example, SPF 30 protects your skin 30 times longer than if you were not wearing sunscreen, and SPF 50 protects you 50 times longer from the sun. However, in reality, much depends on the intensity of the sunlight, how sensitive your skin is to the sun, and other things that may be on your body at the time. (Oils and lotions without sun protection could actually intensify the effects of the sun’s rays.)

A more accurate way to judge the protection is to look at how much UV light is filtered by the different SPF levels. SPF 30 blocks 96.7% of UV rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98%, so the difference is not as large as it might seem. SPF higher than SPF 50 have diminishing returns, as nothing blocks 100% of the rays.


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