Finding Sunscreen that is *Actually* Reef-Friendly

Summer is here, and rows of sunscreens are staring us down at stores. As simple as it may seem, choosing the right sunscreen is complicated. Many sunscreen ingredients are harmful to your body and the environment, particularly coral reefs and marine life – even if you’re not swimming in the ocean, sunscreen gets washed off in the shower and eventually ends up in our oceans. Read on to learn how sunscreen impacts our environment and how to choose the right sunscreen.

Coral Reefs & Harmful Sunscreen Ingredients

Coral reefs are one of the most valuable and biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. According to the Coral Reef Alliance, more than 25% of marine life make their home in coral reefs which cover less than 1% of the ocean floor. If you’ve ever scuba dived or snorkeled at a coral reef, it probably wouldn’t take you much convincing to want to protect these areas. However, the lack of government policies and ingredient regulations has allowed consumers to continue putting harmful chemicals on our skin and into the oceans (many without knowing!).

Researchers are continuing to study how sunscreen ingredients harm coral reefs and what this means for other marine life. Certain sunscreen ingredients harm coral by damaging DNA, interfering with reproduction, inducing bleaching, and causing absorption of toxic chemicals. Other marine life is directly affected by these chemicals, including algae, mussels, urchins, fish, and dolphins. Below is a list of harmful active sunscreen ingredients to avoid:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • 4-Methylbenzylindene camphor
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Nanoparticles (nano-Titanium dioxide; nano-Zinc Oxide)

Non-active ingredients, like preservatives and additives, can also be harmful to marine life. Here's a list of additional ingredients to avoid:

  • Methyl Paraben
  • Ethyl Paraben
  • Propyl Paraben
  • Butyl Paraben
  • Benzyl Paraben
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Triclosan
  • Butyloctyl Salicylic Acid
  • Propylparaben
  • Microbeads (plastic)
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Any Polyester or Nylon compounds

*Actually* Reef Friendly Sunscreens

It’s important to know that we don’t have a standardized test or certification for “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” sunscreens. These labels are not regulated and are commonly misused, so it’s important to actually check sunscreen ingredients before purchasing. Thankfully, there are certain sunscreen ingredients that are safe to use and do not harm coral reefs and other marine life. Look for the following ingredients when purchasing sunscreen:

  • Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
  • Titanium Dioxide (non-nano)

Besides sunscreen, there are plenty of other safe and sustainable options to protect your skin from the sun:

  • Try to stay in the shade as best as possible, especially during peak UV hours (10 am - 2 pm)
  • Use an umbrella
  • Wear a hat and UV sunglasses
  • Wear Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UVP) sunwear

We want you to be able to find sustainable sunscreens that are healthy for you and our environment. That’s why we carry All Good’s sunscreen – all of their sunscreens are made with only non-nano Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Find their SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen Butter on our website or in store and refill their SPF 30+ Mineral Sunscreen in store! If you need more help finding the right sunscreen, check out the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide.

Be sure to stay up to date on safe sunscreen ingredients (and all personal care ingredients, for that matter!). Scientists are learning new things about these ingredients every day. Check our Sources & More for more resources!

Sources & More | Why Care About Coral Reefs? Biodiversity | Protect Yourself, Protect the Reef | Reef Safe Sunscreen | Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs

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