To find the best snorkeling sunscreen we have tested a lot of products over the years. Most recently we did a 3 week test in March, 2015 in St John and we found 4 excellent sunscreens that we recommend below.
Every snorkel day we each apply one brand to one leg and another brand to the other leg. We make sure they are applied correctly (read our application tips here) and that they have the correct drying time before entering the water. We each also test a product on our neck, face and hands (we wear long sleeved rash guards, so we don't test on our arms or torso).
Next we test for reapplication after we have snorkeled one spot, which often means there is some moisture on our legs dripping from our suits (a very common scenario for a snorkeler).
Finally, we notice what it is like to remove the sunscreen in the shower.
During a trip we will end up testing each product for many days, unless it clearly fails and we get burned.
To find the best snorkeling sunscreen, we only use and test reef friendly, biodegradable, physical sunscreens (i.e. titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, or a combination), since chemical sunscreens are known to harm reefs (and we get skin problems from them). Read more about reef friendly sunscreens here.
We are happy to report that we can now recommend 4 different reef friendly sunscreens as best snorkeling sunscreen. They all work great but have slight differences that we will explain.
Please note that companies change their ingredients fairly often. So we suggest you compare the ingredients listed below to make sure what you are buying is what we tested. We have learned the hard way that small changes can completely change how effective they are for snorkeling.
Mexitan's Coral Safe was our #1 pick from our 2010 best snorkeling sunscreen test. It is what we have used for years. We have a full review here. It is still very good. But, we discovered during this test that Mexitan's Tropical Sands product, that used to have the same ingredients as Coral Safe, is now very different and is no longer suitable for snorkeling. It is no longer very water resistant and has an unpleasant application texture and appearance.
But we still can easily recommend Coral Safe for best snorkeling sunscreen. And it is actually better than it used to be. With older formulations you had to put it on quickly or it would dry and ball up. That did not happen during this test.
It is very easy to apply. It is thin and almost watery, not oily in application or after drying. It goes on fairly white, but dries to only lightly white. It goes a long ways, which makes the bottles last a long time.
It is also very good during reapplication when there may be some water present.
Coral Safe has a eucalyptus scent.
There are two downsides to this sunscreen. First, because the product is watery, it is easy to put too much on. Second, it is so water resistant that it is very difficult to remove in the shower.
Coral Safe Results
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (6%), Titanium Dioxide (6%), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe Vera Gel) Juice, Aqua (Deionized Water), Beeswax, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Camellia Sinensis Leaf (Green Tea) Extract, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Oil, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Wax, Lecithin, p-Anisic Acid, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin-E).
This was a new brand we tested for best snorkeling sunscreen and we loved it. Rubber Ducky SPF 30 is probably what we will be buying for our next trip.
It is slightly thick and slightly oily. But it applies nicely, is easy to get an even coating and goes much further than you might expect. It dries the least white of any of these suggested sunscreens.
It is very water resistant, probably due to the high oil content. You can see the water beading off, which is a handy indicator of if you need to apply more. It also washes off in the shower with a bit of soap without any trouble.
It has the scent of lavender and sunflower oil, which some people may not enjoy.
Rubber Ducky Results
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (Non nano) 22.75%, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Cra Flava, Chamomilla recuttia (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Euphobia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Glyceryl Caprylate, Glyceryle Undecylenate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Mangifera Indica (Mano) Seed Butter, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Dulcis (Almond) Oil Symphytum Officinale (Comfrey) Extract, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Tocopherol.
Rubber Ducky also has a tinted SPF 50 that does not go on white. Nicole loved this product for her hands that normally get a lot of sun on our trips. It is a nice product, but keep in mind that the natural iron oxide tint may stain clothing.
Where To Buy Rubber Ducky
We recommend buying direct from the company on Amazon.com for the freshest product.
We also tested RAW Elements ECO Formula 30+ for best snorkeling sunscreen. It is very similar to Rubber Ducky and we really liked it. It is very water resistant.
It is a bit oily, but it goes on easy and spreads well. Though it does not spread as evenly as Rubber Ducky. It dries slightly whiter than Rubber Ducky, but less than Coral Safe or Badger.
It has the scent of sunflower oil but does not have a lavender scent like Rubber Ducky.
RAW Elements Results
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 23%, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Green Tea, Organic Black Tea, Organic Coffee, Organic Hemp Seed Oil, Organic Cocoa Butter, All Natural Mango Butter, Organic Beeswax, All Natural Rosemary Oil Extract, All Natural Vitamin E.
Where To Buy RAW Elements
We recommend buying direct from the company on Amazon.com for the freshest product.
This product was our #2 winner for best snorkeling sunscreen in 2010 and this new Badger Sport SPF 35 formula is better, but it is now our #4 pick because of the new products above.
It is very water resistant and water beads off similarly to RAW Elements & Rubber Ducky. But it is a little less oily and applies drier than those two, although not as dry as Coral Safe. But it does stay noticeably whiter in appearance than the other three brands, probably because it is an SPF 35 vs 30.
It has a light sunflower oil scent.
It is a little hard to wash off, although not as difficult as Coral Safe.
It only has five ingredients, which is refreshing.
Ingredients: Non-Nano Uncoated Zinc Oxide 22.5%, Helianthus Annuus (Organic Sunflower) Oil, Cera Alba (Organic Beeswax), Simmondsia Chinensis (Organic Jojoba) Oil, Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E).
Where To Buy Badger
We recommend buying direct from the company for the freshest product, but Badger is a big company and you can find it on Amazon and at most most natural health stores and even major supermarkets.
In 2015 we tested these products for best snorkeling sunscreen but cannot recommend them:
Very Bare Belly Organics Supersensitive SPF 30 Sunscreen
This product was nice to apply, and has good ingredients, but it was noticeably less effective when used for snorkeling compared to our winners. We both got burned.
Aubrey Organics Natural SUN SPF 26 Unscented
This product applied nicely, but was not very water resistant and washed off easily when snorkeling.
Mexitan Tropical Sands SPF 30
This new formulation has poor application, and is no longer very water resistant, leading to burns.
The ingredients of the formulation we most recently tested are: Zinc Oxide (6%), Titanium Dioxide (6%), Aqua (Deionized Water), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oleosomes, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Olivate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Oil, Gluconolactone, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Wax, Lecithin, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Sorbitan Olivate, Tocopherol (Vitamin-E), Xanthan Gum.
Mexitan Tropical Sands SPF 30 Coconut Scented Zinc Formula
The poor application and low water resistance of this product was identical to the Tropical Sands above.
The ingredients of this tested formulation are: Zinc Oxide (20%), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe Vera Gel) Juice, Aqua (Deionized Water), Astaxanthin, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Olivate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Oil, Gluconolactone, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Wax, Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Sorbitan Olivate, Tocopherol (Vitamin-E), Xanthan Gum.
In 2010 we tested these products for best snorkeling sunscreen and could not recommend them.
It was not very water resistant, had poor reapplication, and we got burned. Nicole also had an allergic reaction to it.
Soleo Organics 30
This product was fairly water resistant, but was very thick and needed to be massaged to get the oils in the bottle to homogenize. It was also very expensive.
There are many other sunscreens that we have considered. Some of them are marketed as natural and reef safe, but their ingredient lists still include things we don't want on our skin.
Tropical Seas - Reef Safe (by Beach Buff)
Used by the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii & The American Lifeguard Association. Instead of getting rid of the chemicals, this sunscreen focuses on making the sunscreen very water resistant, so that the ingredients don't wash off into the water. We ended up not testing this because we no longer want those chemicals on our skin or the reefs.
This sunscreen won Sport Diver Magazine Editor's Pick, but we have skipped testing it because of the ingredients. We ordered it for the 2015 test, but it was rancid, so we returned it and decided not to test it again.
Beyond Coastal Natural Sunscreen SPF 30
We have skipped testing this because of the complexity of ingredients.
Another product that comes up as an option, but again the complexity of ingredients has prevented us from testing it.