To find the best snorkeling sunscreen we have tested a lot of products over the years. Recently in 2015, 2016 and 2017 we have conducted tests in St John, the Maldives, and Hawaii. We only test sunscreens that are reef safe, that do not use the active
ingredient Oxybenzone that is known to kill reefs and fish. Below we recommend our top pick, along with a few other good options.
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 have a favorite best snorkeling sunscreen that we use on every trip, and several others as good options. They all work 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.
This Stream2Sea sunscreen review comes from testing Stream2Sea SPF 20 Sport Sunscreen in Hawaii and their SPF 30 in both Hawaii and the Maldives. It works so well that it is our go to choice for best snorkeling sunscreen. It performs in both very high temperature conditions and cooler ones, and the company is highly eco-conscious. They are the only sunscreen company that invests in testing on corals and fish to make sure their product is not toxic to marine life. It is now our #1 pick for best snorkeling sunscreen. Plus they give our site visitors 10% off your first order by using the coupon code TropicalSnorkeling10 on Stream2Sea's website at the links above.
Stream2Sea SPF 20 is 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 company released tinted
versions of both their SPF 20 and SPF 30 sunscreens in late 2017. We
have not yet had a chance to test these products, but the ingredients
only differ by the addition of the natural tint, iron oxide and some
jojoba esters. We believe the tinted versions will work the same in
terms of sun protection, it is just going to be a skin color instead of white (see the downsides below).
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 (but is unscented).
There are a few downsides. First, these sunscreens rub off after they have gotten wet, which leaves your gear covered in white smudges. Also, after you have been in the water with it on, the SPF 30 sunscreen is 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
For this Goddess Garden sunscreen review we tested their Sport Natural SPF 30 product against our top pick for best snorkeling sunscreen, Stream2Sea, in Hawaii, 2017. It performed very well.
It is a bit thin in consistency, almost watery, which makes it spread easily and it goes a long way, although some reviewers dislike how thin it is. If you apply the sunscreen quickly, it seems to go on well. Nicole found that if you don't apply it fast, sections dried so quickly that it did not blend well.
It is not oily and goes on fairly transparent for an SPF 30. It is clear enough that it is hard to see where it has been applied, and it is hard to see if any has rubbed off.
Once you allow it to dry the required 15 minutes it is a very water resistant sunscreen and protected us as well as Stream2Sea when snorkeling for over an hour at a time. We found no problems reapplying the sunscreen when our legs were slightly damp, although as mentioned above it is very clear so it is hard to see where you need more. The sunscreen is a little whiter in appearance on reapplication.
Goddess Garden Sport Natural SPF 30 Results
Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (6.4%), Zinc Oxide (6.0%), Aloe
Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Aluminum Hydroxide, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea
Butter)*, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Coconut
Oil), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil*, Glycerin, Glyceryl
Caprylate, Glyceryl Stearate Citrate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed
Oil*, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sorbitan Oleate, Stearic Acid,
Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Water, Xanthan Gum *CERTIFIED ORGANIC
Where To Buy Goddess Garden
You can buy it here on Amazon, or it is also available at many health food stores.
We also tested RAW Elements ECO Formula 30+ for best snorkeling sunscreen. It is very water resistant.
It is a bit oily, but it goes on easy and spreads well. It dries slightly white.
It has the scent of sunflower oil.
We have found that sunscreens that use an oil as their primary water resistance method will tend to rub off more easily, leading to more burns. Something to keep in mind.
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
You can buy RAW Elements on Amazon here.
In the past this product performed well in our best snorkeling sunscreen tests, and this new Badger Sport SPF 35 formula is better.
It is very water resistant and water beads off because of its slightly oily consistency. This texture also means it can rub off more easily and possibly cause burns. It is quite white in appearance, probably because it is an SPF 35 vs. SPF 30.
It has a light sunflower oil scent.
It is a little hard to wash off.
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 natural health stores and even major supermarkets.
We have tested these products for the best snorkeling sunscreen but cannot recommend them:
Coral Safe SPF 30 (By Mexitan)
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. But they have changed the formulation so it is no longer water resistant and has an unpleasant application texture and appearance.
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.
Rubber Ducky SPF 30 Body (Untinted)
We thoroughly tested Rubber Ducky SPF 30 on several trips. We found that it rubs off too easily, particularly in very warm locations, which leads to burns. So we no longer recommend it for snorkeling.
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.
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.