When it comes to sunscreen for Key West, one of the biggest reasons the sunscreen you choose can be important is if you’ll be doing ANY kind of water-based activities in the Florida Keys, whether that’s snorkeling or not.
So if you’re heading to the beach in Key West, that means that for your beach packing list you’ll want to include a specific type of sunscreen.
Because you don’t want to choose just any sunscreen for your beach trip in Key West.
Ideally, you’ll be thinking about the health of the ocean marine life when you do choose your sunscreen.
That means choosing reef-safe sunscreen.
So you’ll just want to check to make sure you get the type that’s best for Key West!
What IS reef-safe sunscreen?!
And why should you care?
So there is this thing that’s called “coral bleaching.”
You can probably gather from the name that this doesn’t sound good.
One of the main reasons that it’s believed this is happening, as is also said by the National Park Service, is because the coral reef are being exposed to certain chemicals.
And where are these chemicals coming from?
Largely from all the beach go-ers who enter the water wearing sunscreen containing these toxic chemicals that aren’t biodegradable.
And all of this exposure to chemicals is said to be taking a toll on the coral reef causing them to die.
So, by wearing reef-safe sunscreen, you would be helping out the coral reef off the coast of Florida, which is the third largest living coral reef system in the world.
The coral reef is what attracts fish and can make snorkeling and scuba diving so great.
And ideally, it’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen that’s friendly to coral reef in other destinations with coral reef too, like the Maldives.
What sunscreen chemicals are the WORST for coral reef in Florida?!
There are basically 2 main chemicals that are often cited as most definitely NOT being coral reef-safe.
The ingredients you want to avoid in your sunscreen when snorkeling in Key West are:
And how do you know that these are the worst offenders when it comes to the health of coral reef?!
The Key West sunscreen ban
Key West is soon going to make it ILLEGAL to sell sunscreen that contains these 2 ingredients.
They just recently voted on it in February 2019.
This law is to go into effect in 2021, but NOW is a good time to start making changes if you’ll be getting some beach time in the Florida Keys.
Because the whole reason for putting the ban in place is to minimize the number of people from wearing certain sunscreen at all.
So, since they took the step to specifically make these 2 chemicals illegal to sell, it’s safe to say that oxybenzone and octinoxate are the top 2 ingredients to look out for on the sunscreen ingredients list.
WHY the ban on these 2 sunscreen ingredients?
For that, let’s look to why Hawaii implemented the sunscreen ban:
The legislature finds that two chemicals contained in many sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.
These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals.
You can read more about that.
It’s also safe to say that Key West is banning these ingredients for similar reasons.
These aren’t the only ingredients that have been deemed as not reef-safe.
But you can take it as these are the ones that matter the most.
So in your quest to search for reef-safe sunscreen, look out for these 2 ingredients.
Well, you’re not going scuba diving or snorkeling in Key West… should you still care about wearing reef-safe sunscreen?!
For the advocates of this sunscreen ban, the answer would be YES.
So first, you CAN buy any type of sunscreen outside of Key West, go to Key West, lather up on the “toxic” sunscreen, then go into the water.
This Key West sunscreen ban just means that if you show up to Key West without any sunscreen, you will only be able to buy a certain kind.
That said, if you want to be a “responsible tourist” you might consider bringing this reef-safe sunscreen from home, too!
Now, even if you aren’t going snorkeling, if you will be entering the water anywhere in the Florida Keys and want to be “gentle” to the environment, then the safe thing to do (for the marine environment) would be to YES wear reef-safe sunscreen too!
Because you won’t be that far from coral reef, and if masses of people are putting “toxins” into the water, well, it can make a difference.
When you DON’T need to care about sunscreen in Key West
Now, if you’re going to Key West as a part of a Caribbean cruise and you’re sticking to land, then there probably isn’t really any reason to be concerned about the type of sunscreen you wear when it comes to concern for the coral reef of the Florida Keys.
If you’ll be going on water-based excursions on other Caribbean islands though (Cozumel is a top snorkeling destination), then you still might want to bring along reef-safe sunscreen as part of your cruise packing list.
Okay, so now…
You know that chemicals are bad for the ocean environment.
And maybe you’ve heard of “mineral sunscreen.”
Mineral sunscreen sounds good, right?
Is ALL mineral sunscreen reef-safe?
Instead of chemicals being the base of a sunscreen product, reef-safe sunscreen is made as a mineral-based sunscreen.
The important thing to remember is that while minerals ARE the replacement, that doesn’t mean there can’t also be toxic chemicals made with it too.
One example of this is the Sun Bum signature mineral sunscreen.
It IS made with minerals, but it ALSO includes an ingredient that is among the worst offenders as being agreed upon as harmful to coral reef.
So, if you’re looking to buy a sunscreen because you want a reef-friendly sunscreen, don’t just quickly see the label “mineral” and think it’s all good.
What are the alternative ingredients that are more reef-friendly?
As per the National Park Service, these are 2 ingredients that haven’t been found to be harmful to coral reef:
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium oxide (titanium dioxide)
Well, side note. You can place the emphasis on “haven’t been found” because it’s also been said that too much titanium dioxide in sunscreen is not good… so this is another grey area.
So, with all this in mind…
What reef-safe sunscreen to wear in Key West?!
The sunscreen brands below have products made WITHOUT oxybenzone and WITHOUT octinoxate.
So they are oxybenzone-free AND octinoxate-free.
In general, you may find a sunscreen label say that it’s oxybenzone-free, but do make sure to check for octinoxate too.
Again, these are the 2 ingredients most important to Key West.
There are affiliate links below. You should totally check out the sunscreen reviews.
When you want to go for reef-safe sunscreen for Key West, check out the products below.
1. Sun Bum
Reviews: Mineral sunscreen
See the ingredients list straight from Sun Bum.
Reviews: Sheer zinc dry-touch sunscreen
See the ingredients list straight from Neutrogena.
Reviews: Sport sunscreen
See the ingredients list straight from Badger.
Reviews: Mineral-based sunscreen
See the ingredients list straight from Stream2Sea.
If you’ll be headed to Key West as a part of a cruise…
What to pack for a cruise?!
Quick packing list for a cruise:
- Sun shirts with UV protection (for women and for men) so you have to wear less sunscreen
- Popular water shoes (for women and for men) for the hidden rocks on the beach
- More of what to wear snorkeling
- This standard snorkeling set
- This CHEAP way to make your phone waterproof so you can take amazing underwater photos!
- This type of waterproof pouch so you don’t need to leave valuables on the beach
- And that reef-safe sunscreen!
HAPPY WEARING CORAL REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN IN KEY WEST!
There are affiliate links on this page.
Where to stay on the backpacker trail in Kerala
- Fort Cochin: Zostel Kochi
- Alleppey: Zostel Alleppey or Funky Art Beach House for chill beach vibes! (see my pics - zostel / funky) OR Dream Nest to be closer to town // and see how to spend one day in Alleppey
- Alleppey backwaters: cottage right on the waters
- Munroe Island: cottage backwaters homestay right on the waters (and see why you should consider munroe island!)
- Varkala cliff: Seawin or Prashanthi with ocean views