But the question remains: Does this mean that all mineral sunscreens are considered better for the ocean? Here’s where it gets a little bit more complicated. Two common ingredients in mineral sunscreen are titanium oxide and zinc oxide. These are actually the only two ingredients the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has deemed safe for protection against UV rays; zinc oxide, in particular, also protects against UVA rays, which are the main contributor to photoaging. (You can read all about zinc oxide here.)
And it’s true that these mineral blockers may not be as harmful to the reef directly as their chemical counterparts, which is great. However, that doesn’t mean they’re completely safe for marine life. The caveat? The minerals used need to be non-nano (meaning they aren’t broken up into smaller bits). If they aren’t, these nanoparticles, specifically zinc oxide nanoparticles, can be ingested by marine life and potentially cause harm to many different species.
So there you have it–mineral sunscreen might be better for the environment as-is, but the best option is to look for non-nano mineral SPF the next time you pick one up to ensure you’re looking out for marine life. Major bonus if the product uses recycled plastic or sustainable packaging in general.