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Top Reef-Safe Sunscreens

Written by Nick Wilhamburglar

The sun is out and the vitamin D production is in full swing, but so are the harmful light rays in the UV spectrum that can leave you looking like a toasted lobster at a fancy restaurant. Or worse, set you up for cancers such as Melanoma! The Goyo crew has been busy trying out all kinds of sunscreens from different corners of the globe to protect your skin this summer season, but also to protect the planet.

The industry has also been taking responsibility for its environmental impact on coral reefs. We support this 100% so all of the sunscreens we tested are reef safe. We should mention that the term “Reef Safe” generally means the sunscreens do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These compounds are known to cause harm to coral. However, their replacements may still have negative impacts. It is an ongoing debate and we encourage each sunbather to make an educated choice as to which product is right for them.


These sunscreens come highly recommended, the fact that they are on this list means they know what they are doing. But even at the top, some are better than others. We set up a simple rating system as a quick guide to show the strengths and weaknesses. Here's how it works:

Just to be clear, none of these manufacturers paid us to say anything either way about any of these products. A few of them sent us samples to test, but most of them we had to purchase ourselves. We think you deserve the truth, not just another commercial, it’s the GOYO way! That being said, we didn’t have the time to try all the sunscreens out there so please forgive us if we don’t pick your favorites. But let us know if you feel like there is a product you would like for us to test! We would love to hear from you. 

Let’s lather up and dive in!

“The 8th wonder of the world” “A dab really will do ya!”

 Pros: Great for travel, goes on quick, stays on long

 Cons: Spreading it on can take a few tries to master

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Of all the sunscreens we tested, this one is the most ground breaking and innovative. Skinnies is a New Zealand company passionate about sun protection and the environment. In fact, it was their concern for water conservation that led to one of their biggest breakthroughs. Skinnies sunscreen contains no water; this approach allows it to be condensed and therefore requires very (I mean VERY) little sunscreen to cover a large area. To quote the instructions on the container, “one pea sized blob is all you need for your face, neck and ears for instant long lasting UV protection”. This is an ideal product for travel or adventures. A small amount of this takes up little space in your pack, but will be more than enough to get you through the whole trip. All this revolutionary talk does come with its concerns, the sunscreen has the consistency of thick petroleum jelly and a slightly brownish color with very minimal smell. Applying it feels a bit like lip balm all over your face. A pea sized blob isn't much, we found it best to dab it in all the places you want it to cover first before rubbing it in is the best method. We found it a bit challenging to tell how far it was spread since the layer is so thin. But that’s when the magic happens, it becomes invisible and the greasy feeling is gone almost as soon as you spread it on. It leaves the tiniest bit of residue but with absolutely no scent. It seemed too good to be true, but after a long day of water, dirt, and sweat, you will realize that it really works. It is easily washed off with soap and a little scrubbing. It's 2020, we may not have flying cars and cities on the moon just yet, but if this sunscreen is any indication of the future, it is going to be a great ride!

“Fast and Fantastic” 

Pros: Spray on, super easy to put on

Cons: Doesn’t stay on very long

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When you think spray-on sunscreen you may assume you are sacrificing quality for ease of use, Vertra. This was the only spray on sunscreen we tested and it proved to be able to hold its own against the rest of the pack. This product uses a pump spray bottle (not aerosol) to squirt out a thin stream of sunscreen. It goes on white and still requires a little work to rub in but overall, was very easy to apply. It has a much thinner consistency than the other sunscreens we tested so it can be spread around very quickly. However, easy come easy go, this sunscreen didn’t last as long as some of its rivals. Ideal for a quick spritz before you head out to do some outside work or a brief reapply before you head back into the surf. You won’t miss a beat with it.

“This stuff is amazing”

Pros: long lasting, super durable, comes off without a fight

Cons: slight greasy feeling left on skin

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The first sunscreen we tested comes to us from Manda, and is one of their flagship products: Organic Sun Creme SPF 50. Manda’s products are made from 100% organic food safe ingredients. They also say their products are the only one to use Thanaka, a cosmetic powder made from several trees from Myanmar. They have a fresh from the ground-up approach to sun care that really pays off. In testing, this sun creme had a great feel to it. It was thicker than some other sunscreens, but only slightly more difficult to rub in. But once it was on, it was ON! With only minimal greasy feeling on your skin, this stuff stayed on incredibly well no matter what we threw at it. Water, sweat, dirt, sand, it didn’t seem to be phased. But don’t be scared, soap and water break the spell. With a little scrubbing, it comes right off in the shower. This is definitely one of the most impressive new products we tested.

“This stuff is even MORE amazing”

Pros: Smells like mexican hot chocolate. Stays on FOREVER!!!

Cons: Very thick, Tough to rub in will not spread around

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Another great product by Manda. We were pleased with the sun creme, but their Sun Paste was a quick favorite. Our favorite use for this sunscreen was for complete coverage on the face. Not your typical sunscreen, this paste is very thick just as the name implies. It seems to work best when applied lightly on top of the skin. It can take a bit of work to get rubbed in, but the effort will pay off. The longevity of this paste is all but eternal. It's like a tattoo but the only difference is that this paste lasts a bit longer. We were very impressed with this product in many ways but one way we didn't expect was the smell. It is reminiscent of creamy chocolate with notes of cinnamon. But not to be afraid, it is a very light odor that won't be picked up by those around you. All that protection does come with a price. You may find your showers going into extra innings trying to get this product completely off your skin.

“Oldie but a goodie”

Pros: Long lasting, no frills,It just works

Cons: Can be messy

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Blue Lizard has been around for decades but that doesn't mean it's too old fashion to play with the new kids on the block. Leave it to the Aussies to pave the way for sun protection. This Australian company has been making serious sunscreens for well over 20 years with no signs of slowing down. This is most like the sunscreens you probably grew up with; it comes out white and rubs in clear. Their trademark bottle is white but turns blue when exposed to UV light. It can be a bit eye-opening to how much sun exposure we really get as turns blue more often than you might expect. It rubs on with relative ease and stays on for hours no matter what we threw at it. Comes off with a little soap and water. What else could you want?

“One size fits most”

Pros: Fun packaging reminds you to wear sunscreen, very travel friendly

Cons: Difficult to apply, roller applicator doesn't always work, difficult to spread or cover evenly

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Project Sunscreen is a new company that is very passionate about bringing awareness to people of all ages of the importance of wearing sunscreen. They do this by using attractive packaging for multiple age ranges and unique roll-on applicators integrated into the bottle’s design. The bottles are ideal for travel with a specially designed lanyard built onto the cap. We were impressed in testing since the lanyard remained secured to our backpack during several strenuous hikes. The bottles are attractive and are aimed to be accessories to go with all ages. Unfortunately we found the sunscreen to be difficult to apply. The roll-on applicator works sporadically but usually becomes saturated and slides over the skin applying a very thin light streak of sunscreen in its wake. Once on the skin, the sunscreen can be pretty difficult to spread around and rub in. It seemed to require extra care to fully apply without missing spots. When it is applied properly it seems to stay on fairly well. It washes off with soap and water but it seemed to take a bit more scrubbing than some of the rivals. Overall it is a good mineral based sunscreen but does leave something to be desired when held up next to some of the other brands we tested.

Tags: Top Reef - Reef-safe - Sunscreen - review
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