A lot of us grew up being smothered from head-to-toe with sunscreen before going to the beach. It didn’t occur to us or our parents that these chemicals can damage kill coral reefs.
Most of us realize that we are f***ing up the environment pretty badly and I think people want to do better. They just don’t know what they need to do.
Well, here is one easy change you can make to reduce your harmful impact: switch to reef-safe(er) sunscreens. Some people suggest the best thing to do is actually just cover your body more as even mineral based sunscreens have drawbacks, but failing that you can at least choose safer sunscreen.
If you already know about the issue, you can click to skip the article and browse all the reef-safe sunscreen brands.
I’ve put together a list of a few reef-safe sunscreen options for you. Check ’em out! (By the way, you can’t always trust the “reef-safe” label. You have to check the ingredients and verify there are no nano-particles in them. But, don’t worry, I’ve done that for you with my list!)
The chemicals in sunscreen wash off your skin into the water. Corals ingest the chemicals and it causes them to bleach and die. Pretty simple. You’re basically smearing creamy, tropical-smelling death all over you.
What To Look For
The creators of “Chasing Coral” wrote a piece about reef-safe sunscreen and how to identify it. (If you haven’t seen the documentary, by the way, definitely check it out! It’s all about how massive coral bleaching events due to the ocean heating up are a huge climate change warning, but we don’t see it because it’s underwater.)
According to the coral experts, here are the key things you need to look out for when purchasing sunscreen.
“The absence of oxybenzone and octinoxate in listed ingredients. These two chemicals are harmful to corals and can cause sunscreen-induced coral bleaching, so look for them in the ingredient list. Their absence points the product being reef-safe.
Mineral based sunscreen with the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are mineral-based, so rather than being absorbed like traditional sunscreen, the particles of these ingredients sit on top of the skin and block harmful UV rays. These ingredients are less harmful to corals and are not linked to coral bleaching.
Indication that ingredients are “non-nano”. In order for mineral sunblocks to leave corals untouched, they must be “non-nano”, meaning the ingredient particles must be above 100 nanometers in size so that they cannot be ingested by corals.
Reef-safe labels. Typically companies will label their products as “reef-safe” but always check the ingredients to be sure.”
Reef-Safe Sunscreen Brands
- SPF 30 UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection. 80 Minute Water Resistant.
- Lightweight formula that’s not greasy
- Organic green tea, rose hips and buriti oil for repairing damaged skin
- Oxbenzone Free – Gluten Free – Vegan – Non-Nano – Biodegradeable Coral Reef Friendly
Buy this sunscreen here.
Stream 2 Sea
- “Stream2Sea is a tested and proven reef safe, biodegradable sport sunscreen with broad spectrum UVA and UVB sun protection, with a powerful antioxident blend of organic Green Tea, Tulsi, Wakame and Olive Leaf.
- Non-greasy, fast-absorbing formula won’t burn your eyes, ideal natural sunscreen for face or body
- Water resistant for up to 80 minutes, sunblock won’t run into your eyes or rinse off from sweat or swimming
- Mineral sunscreens go on white, to reduce whitening effect apply a small amount at a time, and apply lotion or make sure your skin is hydrated prior to application. Rub it in well and feel good knowing you are choosing to do better for your body and the environment!
- All of our mineral suncreen and natural body care products are Made in the USA and are safe for your skin and our oceans. We only use ingredients that are biodegradable, paraben free, and reef safe – tested safe for freshwater and saltwater species.”
If this one does it for you, buy it now here.
- “Top rated by EWG skin deep database with a “1” rating since 2010. First sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements
- Free of biologically harmful chemicals: no avobenzone, oxybenzone, paraben, phthalate, paba and 1,4 dioxane free or UV chemical absorbers
- Highest – SPF 50 plus, water resistance (80 minutes), broad-spectrum coverage as proposed by the 2012 monograph
- Non-nano zinc oxide formulation average particle size >100micron, non-aerosol formulation (high concern of both ineffectiveness and particulates being inhaled)
- Applies and absorbs easily non-oily feel does not have an obtrusive smell that many organic sunscreens have. No animal testing.”
Buy this sunscreen here.
The Bottom Line
It might seem like a small change to make, but if we all do it the effect is cumulative. Another major thing you can do is reduce your plastic use, especially plastic bags and straws! Plastic straws are unnecessary and are terrible for sea life. Grab some awesome reusable bamboo straws instead.
So, the next time you head to the beach, make sure you have some reef-safe sunscreens in your bag. The plants and critters will thank you by maintaining the biodiversity on which we all rely.