Sunscreen Choice Can Protect More Than Just Your Skin

Coral Reef

When the sky is clear, and the sun is out, it is an excellent time to enjoy outdoor activities. But protection is essential from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV), since UV rays cause damage to skin, aging it prematurely, and can increase the risk of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is especially essential where UV rays are intense. However, as we protect ourselves, we may be destroying the ocean and its marine life due to toxic substances found within these sunscreens.

Studies completed by marine researchers have revealed two main sunscreen ingredients, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, that are hazardous to coral reefs. (NCCOS, 2014). Scientists state chemically-based sunscreens containing the two elements cause the corals to bleach. (EHP, 2008).  Additionally, the existence of these chemicals in seawater allows viruses to flourish, putting coral reefs at an increased risk of catching an infection that could also lead to bleaching and death. As a result, Hawaii passed a bill on May 1st, 2018, which prohibits the use of sunscreens which contain harmful chemicals.

In addition, marine researchers have found connections between the parabens in sunscreens and their preservatives found in marine mammal’s tissues, such as the Bottlenose Dolphin. Researches have suggested two theories as to why. One may be the result of sunscreen washing off swimmers’ bodies into the ocean. The other argument is that the preservatives are a result of contaminated water moving from plugholes into oceans. (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2015).


Our personal choice to use reef-safe sunscreen can be an enormous advantage, and there is an abundance available for purchase. Also, water-resistant sunscreens are better as fewer ingredients will wash off your body and face into the ocean. If you are looking for a sunscreen for water activities, check the water resistance duration on the label. Sometimes, the sunscreen bottle itself will claim the products to be “reef safe,” “friendly,” or “coral safe.”


1. Avoid sunscreens that contain the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. Check the label. These two toxic substances cause sunscreen-induced coral bleaching.

2. Look for sunscreen with a mineral base that includes the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunscreens made with these elements are mineral-based. The components of these mineral-based ingredients create a layer on top of the skin, instead of being absorbed by the body, and will still block harmful UV rays. Marine researchers have deemed these ingredients to be less detrimental to corals and not connected to coral bleaching.

3. Look for components that are “non-nano.” For mineral sun blocks to not harm the coral reefs, they must be “non-nano,” therefore, the ingredient particles must be below 100 nanometers in size so that corals can’t ingest them.

4. Reef-safe labels. Most sunscreen companies will label their products as “reef-safe,” or “friendly.” To make sure, always double check the label.


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