We have all heard about the importance of wearing sunscreen when you are out under the sun. But do you know exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is not just limited to sunny days? Even if you have already been diligently including sunscreen in your daily skin care regime, you may not have known that many of them are bad for the ocean. In this article, we will share tips on what to look for in a sunscreen product, which is not only great for your skin but also ocean and reef-safe!

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Why you need to wear sunscreen on a daily basis

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Do you proactively protect your skin by wearing sunscreen daily? The sun emits two kinds of UV rays, namely UVA and UVB. UVA rays have the same intensity regardless of season, while the intensity of UVB rays varies from summer to winter. UVB rays cause sunburn and are the main culprits for skin cancer.

On the other hand, UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin and can cause skin ageing and cancer. Sun damage is irreversible. Therefore, every day that you do not protect your skin means exposure to a higher risk of developing skin cancer!

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Many people are guilty of skipping the sunscreen on a cloudy or gloomy day because “the sun isn’t out”. But do you know that up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds? Furthermore, engaging in winter sports high up on the snow-capped mountains actually increases your exposure to UV radiation. This is because UV radiation is higher at elevated altitudes and snow can reflect up to 80% of the harmful UV rays!

If preventing skin cancer is not enough reason to make you include sunscreen in your daily skincare regime, what about the fact that wearing sunscreen helps slow down skin ageing and development of wrinkles? I’m pretty sure no one wants to look older than you really are, right? If you do not wear sunscreen, the sun’s UV rays penetrate into your skin and damage the elastic fibres that keep skin firm. Wrinkles develop due to the loss in your skin elasticity. So, always ensure you put on sunscreen as the last step in your skincare routine.

How to choose the right sunscreen

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Now that you realise the importance of sunscreen, how do you make sure the one you bought is the right one? Follow these three basic rules when shopping for one:

  1. Confirm it says broad spectrum: Get a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection because it shields you from both UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Get one with at least SPF 30: SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor, indicates the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. The higher the number, the better the protection, but the difference decreases as the SPF rises after 30. It is important to know that no sunscreen provides complete protection. Nonetheless, we know that SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters out about 97%, and SPF 50 blocks about 98%. As you can see, the difference between 30 and 50 is only about 1%.
  3. Water resistant the way to go: There is no sunscreen which is waterproof or sweatproof, but it is possible to get one that is water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes. Do note that this does not mean you can skip reapplication after swimming or sweating. It’s just that you won’t need to worry about it as often.

What are the types of sunscreen available?

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There are various types of sunscreen available in the market, and what you choose may differ depending on which area of the body to be protected. Common sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, wax sticks and sprays. Select the most appropriate one based on your skin type:

Sunscreen typeSuitable skin typeSuitable body area


Any type except dry skin

Anywhere, more for ease of application, especially on children

Wax stick

Delicate skin

Around the eyes


Oily / acne-prone skin

Scalp or male chest


Dry skin



There are also some moisturizers and cosmetics that indicate they provide sun protection. Do note that although these products are convenient, they also need to be reapplied in order to achieve the best sun protection. Sometimes, sunscreen may be sold in combination with an insect repellent too. It is better to use them separately as sunscreen needs to be applied often and generously, while the latter should be used sparingly and not as frequent.

Regardless of which sunscreen you use, do remember to apply it generously, so as to achieve the UV protection indicated on the product label.

Which ingredients in sunscreen are safe for the ocean?

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Sunscreen may come in various forms, there are essentially only two types of formulas, either chemical or physical. Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. On the other hand, physical sunscreens work like a shield, protecting your skin surface and diverting the sun’s rays. The easiest way to differentiate between a chemical and physical sunscreen is to look at its ingredients.

If the sunscreen contains one or more of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate, then it is a chemical sunscreen. Physical sunscreen only contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Avoid sunscreens that contain the following ingredients:

  • petroleum (commonly known as “mineral oil”),
  • titanium dioxide,
  • oxybenzone and
  • octinoxate.

They take a long time to biodegrade, or do not biodegrade at all,  and known to harm marine life. In fact, Hawaii is enforcing a new law to ban the sale of coral-bleaching chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from 1 January 2021.

Therefore, the rule of thumb is to skip the chemical sun protection and check that the physical sunscreen does not contain a high level of titanium dioxide. In fact, most of the chemical ones contain oxybenzone, which can be absorbed through the skin and linked to hormone disruption.

Any product recommendations to consider for different situations?

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Feeling perturbed after reading the above? Fret not. There may be an overwhelming list of sunscreen products out there that fits the unsafe category, but there are still dozens of safe sunscreen options for us. Thanks to the American non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), we have some tips on the sunscreens to avoid, so as to protect yourself and the ocean:

  • Avoid sprays and aerosols – while they are really convenient to use, it’s also too easy to inhale or ingest some of the ingredients. Potentially, these ingredients may be harmful to your body organs such as lungs.
  • Keep away from super high SPF – a sunscreen’s SPF refers to its ability to filter UVB rays that cause sunburn. Besides, high-SPF products contain higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals such as oxybenzone than low-SPF sunscreens. Thus, do steer clear of sunscreens with SPF above 50.
  • Ditch that chemical protection – with the possibility of chemical sunscreen interfering with your normal hormonal functions, it’s certainly wiser to opt for a physical product that contains zinc oxide.

Based on the EWG tips, we have done our research so you can just relax and click that button to make a safe purchase:

  • Best cancer-fighting sunscreen – Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+

         This product is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It also contains zinc oxide with broad-spectrum protection. Hence, it is an ideal choice for water sports or outdoor activities that make you perspire.

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  • Best kids’ sunscreen – Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream SPF 30

         The water-resistant product has a high concentration of zinc oxide, alongside moisturizing (sunflower oil and organic beeswax) and soothing (chamomile) ingredients.

  • Best sensitive skin sunscreen – True Natural SPF 50 Sunscreen, Neutral & Unscented

         The mineral-based formula is created specifically for those with allergies or sensitivities. It is vegan, gluten-free and biodegradable with excellent UVA protection.

  • Best moisturizer with SPF – La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair UV Face Moisturizer with SPF 30

         This oil-free facial moisturizer with SPF works in two ways, by replenishing moisture and restoring your skin’s natural protective barrier.

Where to buy sunscreen products online:

  • Guardian (with up to 7% cashback)
  • Sephora (with up to 5% cashback)
  • iHerb (with up to 5% cashback)
  • Althea (with up to 7% cashback)

Do your bit for Mother Earth when you can

Remember, what goes around comes around. So while you search for the most ideal sunscreen to protect your skin, do not forget to do your bit for Mother Earth. If the ocean becomes sick, it will, in turn, affect you as this is all a vicious cycle. Let’s use an eco-friendly sunscreen to keep our oceans clean of toxic chemicals!

*Featured Image credit: shutterstock.com

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