Woman applying mineral sunscreen to her body at the beach

How to choose the right sunscreen?

It is completely normal to get confused when you are looking for the perfect sunscreen, not only one that protects your skin but the planet too. Sounds like you?

So, what sunscreen is best? Here we will give you tips to help you make an informed decision when selecting your next sunscreen that is best for you and the planet.

We’ll talk about the main two types of sunscreens you find these days on the market, and what a reef-safe sunscreen means? We will guide you on what to look for in a sustainable sunscreen, plus suggesting to you our favourite Australian made sunscreens that are good for your skin, the ocean and your community. 


There are two main types of sunscreens that we find commercially: chemical and mineral. 

Chemical sunscreens are the most widely used, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best option. This type of sunscreen works by absorbing UV rays and contains worrying active ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate that absorb through the skin and also harm marine life.

Mineral sunscreens (or physical sunscreens), on the other hand, deflect UV rays away from the skin with the use of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, ingredients that act like tiny mirrors forming a real physical block to protect the skin from absorbing the rays.


An estimate of 14,000 tonnes of chemical sunscreen washes off swimmers into the ocean each year, threatening coral reefs around the world by sunscreen pollution. 

Sunscreen is classified as ‘reef safe’ when the ingredients list doesn’t contain Octinoxate Oxybenzone, Cinnamates, Petrolatum or Parabens. These are chemicals that have been studied and proven to be harmful to the reef, causing coral bleaching and disturbing sea life.

Generally, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are fine in the water, however, it is when they are broken down into nanoparticles in sunscreens that they are no longer reef friendly. 

Colourful coral reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most spectacular underwater treasures on the planet. We are proud to have it here in Australia, and we feel the responsibility to do our bit to protect it. Do you feel the same?
  • Ingredients

Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following harmful substances:

Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Homosalate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, Parabens, Triclosan, nano-titanium dioxide, nano-zinc oxide.

Also, be sure to buy sunscreens that use micro (or non-nano) sized particles. If it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-size” or “non-nano”, it’s probably nano-size.

  • Reef safe:

Unfortunately, the term “reef friendly” is not regulated, so you can’t always trust products with this description. Check the active ingredients label to make sure reef-harming chemicals are not listed

  • Spray sunscreen vs lotion:

Cream sunscreen over sunscreen sprays is the way to go. When the spray does not hit your body and falls on the sand, it will inevitably end up in the ocean. We want to reduce the amount of sunscreen in the sea overall, regardless of the ingredients.

  • Broad-Spectrum:

Choose sunscreens that are labelled broad spectrum, as they protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. 

While UVA rays are slightly less intense than UVB rays, UVA penetrates your skin more deeply and they account for up to 95% of the UV radiation.

Did you know?: UVA rays can penetrate windows!

  • SPF (sun protection factor):
The SPF number tells you how long the sun’s radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product compared to the time without sunscreen. Make sure you choose a minimum of SPF 30.
  • Product packaging:

It's always good to use products that cut back on single use plastic packaging. Look for sunscreens that come in cardboard tubes or aluminium tins.


Meet Tina from Big Blue Cosmetica (Read more about her work and products here), she makes our favourites plastic free and Australian made Zinc Sunscreen and Mineral Tinted Sunscreen Sticks, a facial sunscreen like foundation that does more than protect, it glows your skin!

Big Blue Cosmetica sunscreens are tested on people under the harsh Australian sun! They tick all of our sustainability boxes: non-nanoparticle mineral ingredients, reef safe, plastic free packaging and they are made locally! Best choice ever!! 

Face of a woman at the beach, wearing a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen as sun protection


It is totally your call, but allow us to summarise the basics when choosing the best eco-friendly sunscreen to keep your skin glowing:

1| Choose a sunscreen that is safe. Look for broad spectrum mineral sunscreen with non-nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

2| Don’t forget that you can find sunscreens that come in plastic free packaging.

3| Always consider buying Australian made first.

4| Remember that proper application and reapplication of sunscreen is key, but did you know that putting the SPF on your outfit (wearing hats, shirts, and other clothing that incorporates UV protection) can reduce the amount of sunscreen you need by up to 90 percent? And these items will likely last longer than a tin of sunscreen.

5| When you go outdoors, pick shady spots and bring an umbrella to create your own shade. 

Enjoy Summer Time!

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