Updated: Mar 7
Many chemicals found in sunscreens are harmful to coral reef ecosystems.
Did You Know? Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, and have even been called “biodiversity hotspots.”They cover less than 1% of the ocean’s floor, but nearly one million species of fish, invertebrates, and algae are estimated to live in and around the world’s reefs.
Why should I use Reef-Safe Sun Protection?
Sunscreens are among the products we are encouraged to use liberally to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays. However, researchers are finding that while protecting humans, some compounds in many sunscreens can harm the coral on reefs. We may not realize that the products covering our skin wash off when we enter the water, and it adds up! *According to the National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior: "Research tells us that 4,000 to 16,000 TONS of sunscreen enters reef areas annually. This does not spread out rapidly or evenly over the entire ocean, but concentrates on popular tourist sites. It is estimated that 90% of snorkeling/diving tourists are concentrated on 10% of the world’s reefs. This means that our most popular reefs, such as those in our national parks, are exposed to the majority of sunscreens."
What does “Reef-safe” or “Reef-friendly” Sunscreen Mean?
Terms like “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” are typically used to identify sunscreens that do not contain petrolatum, titanium dioxide, oxybenzone and octinoxate, common UV-blocking chemicals that studies have shown can cause coral bleaching. While traditional sunscreens contain ocean-damaging chemicals, Reef-friendly products allow us to soak up rays without harming the precious marine environments we're out to enjoy.
As we learn more about the effects of some chemicals on marine life, many popular destinations, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii, and island communities including Key West, Aruba and Palau, have even banned specific ingredients that harm coral reefs and other ocean species. There are plenty of eco-conscious sunblock options that provide proper protection without violating these bans or sacrificing your skin's comfort.
The mounting research on the impact of sunscreen on coral reefs and marine environments is more important than ever, says analytical environmental chemist Felix R. Roman-Velazquez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and one of the researchers behind a new experiment to remove oxybezone from bodies of water.
In the meantime, scientists are working on a few possible solutions. One research team from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida is working on creating a “natural sunscreen” from shinorine, a UV-absorbing ingredient harvested from algae and another team in Puerto Rico is working to create biodegradable beads that could soak up oxybenzone from oceans, as highlighted in Popular Science.
Reasons to use Reef Friendly Sunscreen:
Gentle on coral reefs and ocean life
Reduce your risk of developing skin cancer
Improve skin health and natural glow
Pregnancy-safe and suitable for sensitive skin & children
This are the Top 5 Reef Friendly Sunscreens we recommend:
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If you are using a non-reef friendly sunscreen, theres no need to toss it away, you can use it for off ocean activities under the sun. Have in mind to always check the labels and cover up your skin, wear hats, sunglasses and light, long-sleeved clothing to protect you! Our coral reefs deserve saving, and you could have a part in doing so by switching to reef-safe sunscreen. Your skin health is of the utmost importance, so choose sunscreens safe for you; and last but not least, the health of our environment is also important, and Earth deserves consideration from consumers. If you have the means to choose mineral, reef-safe sunscreens (and you'll actually wear them and reapply as directed), it's a great choice to make for your own health and the health of the environment.