An estimated 6,000 – 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter our oceans and our reef areas every single year.
The majority of these sunscreens are chemical based, which harm sensitive reef ecosystems.
Why does it matter what kind of sunscreen you are using for your day at the beach?
Coral Reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and they are dying at an alarming rate. Most sunscreens you find at the store are chemical based, and contain an ingredient called Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is toxic to ocean environments, including coral reefs. This is how sunscreens are contributing to the die off of coral. These chemicals enter the water in large quantities and add to coral bleaching and other coral diseases. Oxybenzone kills coral by causing DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in coral while it is in the larval stage. Researchers often find the worst sunscreen contamination in high tourism areas. For example, the Caribbean has lost about 85% of their coral reefs in the last 50 years. Sunscreen contamination at Trunk Bay, St. John in the U.S Virgin Islands was detected by researchers in recent years. Contamination has also been found in Hawaii and Florida. These chemicals have also been found to harm fish in the area by causing deformities and impacting their overall reproductive health.
High concentration of tourists = High concentration of oxybenzone = High number of dead or damaged coral
There are many large, global events impacting our oceans and marine life. However, making responsible sunscreen choices is a simple way each individual can help. By choosing to avoid chemical based sunscreens, you can enjoy the beach while knowing that you are not contributing to the stress these sensitive ecosystems are facing. Thankfully there are some areas in the world that are starting to implement bans on chemical sunscreens. The U.S Virgin Islands for example have a harmful sunscreen ban that went into effect in March 2020. These bans won’t save our coral reefs, but it is a small step in the right direction. It is also an easy step everyone can make.
Here is what to look for when buying your next sunscreen:
The toxicity of oxybenzone is 62 parts per trillion. That equates to about one drop of water in an olympic sized swimming pool so be sure to check your ingredients before you buy. Any brand can put the words “reef safe” or “reef friendly” on their product, but it is up to you to check the ingredients to make sure that is true.
Some active ingredients to avoid are:
- 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor
Another important product description to look for is if the sunscreen is Nano versus Non-Nano. This refers to the size of particles within the various ingredients. Some studies have shown that nanoparticles, which are smaller, can be toxic in high concentrations. To simplify that, avoid all chemical based sunscreens and look for the non-nano mineral based products.
Recommended Sunscreen Brands
REN Clean Skincare (Vegan)
Bare Republic (Vegan)
*Another way to continue helping our oceans and the planet is to also look for companies that are working to phase out the single use plastic packaging.