To find the best snorkeling sunscreen we have tested a lot of products over the years. Our most recent tests were in March, 2015 in St John, April, 2016 in the Maldives, and August, 2016 in Hawaii. From those tests, we have 3 sunscreens 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 3 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.
We thoroughly tested Stream2Sea SPF 20 Sport Sunscreen in Hawaii and tested their SPF 30 in both Hawaii and the Maldives. They worked well in both very hot sun conditions and cooler ones, and the company is highly eco-concious. It is now our #1 pick for best snorkeling sunscreen. Get 10% off your first order by using the coupon code TropicalSnorkeling10 on Stream2Sea's website at the links above.
We found the Stream2Sea SPF 20 very easy to apply. It goes a long way and has a nice thin consistency. It is not oily in application or on the skin after it is dry. It does go on fairly white, but rubbing it in helps it dry to slightly white. The SPF 30 is similar but does not go on quite as easily and is slightly whiter on the skin. They are very water resistant, but come off easily in the shower with some soap.
We found that they both had very good reapplication over slightly wet skin, maybe even better than when applying to dry skin. In fact, the company says it is easier to apply to moist skin or you can even apply this over normal body lotion for an easier application.
Having tested both the SPF 20 and 30 for best snorkeling sunscreen, we found that they both protect from sunburn very well over the time of a normal length snorkel, though you will get a little more color to your skin using the SPF 20 compared to the 30.
The SPF 20 is made for both face and body. We normally don't wear much sunscreen on our faces with the exception of Galen's forehead and both Nicole and Galen's chins and lower cheeks. But Nicole decided to test this sunscreen on her whole face under her mask due to a recommendation from the owner of Stream2Sea. The mask definitely rubs it off in the areas it touches your face. And the sunscreen interferes with the seal of the mask to your face causing leaks. Nicole did not notice it getting in her eyes at all. But Galen, when he put his forehead sunscreen a little too low, his mask leaked and got some of the sunscreen in his eyes and it definitely stung. So, you can try this sunscreen on your face while snorkeling, but it does cause sealing problems for your mask and if it gets in your eyes, it will sting.
It has a very faint scent.
There are a few downsides. First, these sunscreens rub off fairly easily especially when they have gotten wet, which leaves your gear covered in white smudges. Also, after you have been in the water with them on, these sunscreens are VERY white on your skin. Last, the list of ingredients looks a little daunting compared to the others on this page. But the company has thoroughly tested all ingredients for human, fish, and coral health.Stream2Sea SPF 20 & 30 Results
Ingredients: 8.8% Titanium Dioxide (Non-Nano), Deionized Water, Aqueous Extracts of Camellia Sinenis (Green Tea) Leaf*, Ocimum Tenuiflorum (Tulsi) Leaf*, Alaria Esculenta (Wakame Seaweed)* and Olea Europa (Olive) Leaf*, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice*, Cocoglycerides, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Palmitate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sorbitan Olivate, Cetearyl Olivate, Methylcellulose, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Stearic Acid, Acrylates Copolymer, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Sorbitan Palmitate, Tocopherol, Xanthan Gum, Alumina, Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Sorbic Acid. *Certified Organic
We also tested RAW Elements ECO Formula 30+ for best snorkeling sunscreen. It is very similar to Rubber Ducky below. 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 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 #3 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 Stream2Sea. But it does stay noticeably whiter in appearance than the other 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.
We first tested Rubber Ducky SPF 30 in St John and then used it again in the Maldives. Unfortunately it worked very differently in the two places, making us change our review of it.
It is slightly thick and a bit 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. We thought it was very water resistant because you can see water beading off the oily surface.
The oily consistency may make it not the best snorkeling sunscreen though because in the hot air and water temperatures (in the low 90s °F) we experienced in the Maldives, it rubbed off quite easily from both legs and necks, causing some sunburns. After applying, it was difficult to get it off our hands and it got all over our gear.
It 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.
They have a tinted SPF 50 sunscreen that we no longer recommend due to its very oily nature and the tint stains clothing.
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.
Where To Buy Rubber Ducky
We recommend buying direct from the company on Amazon.com for the freshest product.
Unfortunately we can no longer recommend Mexitan's Coral Safe sunscreen for snorkeling. It was our #1 pick from our 2010 best snorkeling sunscreen test and what we used for years. They have changed the formulation so it is no longer water resistant and has an unpleasant application texture and appearance.
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 water resistant, leading to burns.
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.
In 2010 we tested these products for best snorkeling sunscreen and could not recommend them.
Caribbean Solutions/Hawaiian Sol
It was not very water resistant, had poor reapplication, and we got burned. Nicole also had an allergic reaction to it. This product has two different labels, but the ingredients are identical.
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 products that we have considered for the best snorkeling sunscreen. 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)
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.