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Last Updated: February 21, 2023

Coral Reefs in Danger: The Harsh Reality of Sunscreens

We all know the importance of sunscreen to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun. However, what you may not know is that some sunscreen ingredients can harm marine life, particularly coral reefs.

Two of the most common sunscreen ingredients, octinoxate and oxybenzone, have been found to be harmful to our oceans.

In this blog, we will discuss the impact of sunscreen on marine life, the effects of octinoxate and oxybenzone on marine life, alternatives to these ingredients, and why it's important to use reef-safe sunscreens.

The impact of sunscreen on marine life

Harmful chemicals in sunscreen to avoid

Sunscreen can harm marine life, including coral reefs. The chemicals in sunscreen can bleach and damage coral, which can lead to coral reef death. Studies have also found that sunscreen chemicals can accumulate in the tissues of fish and other marine organisms, which can be toxic and harmful to their health.

Moreover, when people swim in the ocean wearing sunscreen, the chemicals can enter the water and harm marine life. Researchers estimate that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs annually, and this can be catastrophic for marine ecosystems.

Octinoxate and oxybenzone: what are they?

Octinoxate and oxybenzone are common ingredients in many sunscreens. Octinoxate is a UV-absorbing chemical that protects the skin from UVB rays, while oxybenzone protects against UVA rays.

These ingredients are often used together in sunscreens because they provide broad-spectrum coverage. 

They are effective at blocking harmful UV rays, but research has found that they are also harmful to marine life.

Types of sunscreen

The effects of octinoxate and oxybenzone on marine life

Octinoxate and oxybenzone have been found to harm marine life, particularly coral reefs. These ingredients can cause coral bleaching and damage coral DNA, leading to the death of the coral. They can also cause developmental defects in marine organisms and disrupt their hormonal balance. 

In addition, they can accumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, which can be toxic and harmful to their health. Many studies have shown that these ingredients can have long-term and devastating effects on marine ecosystems.

Alternatives to octinoxate and oxybenzone

There are many alternatives to octinoxate and oxybenzone that are safe for marine life. These include physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on the skin's surface and reflect UV rays, rather than being absorbed into the skin.

Other alternatives include organic or mineral-based sunscreens that contain natural ingredients like aloe vera, green tea, or jojoba oil. However, some of these alternatives may not provide the same level of protection as chemical sunscreens.

Coral Reef

Frequently Asked Questions on Reef-Safe Sunscreens

What makes a sunscreen reef-safe?

A reef-safe sunscreen does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that have been shown to harm coral reefs and marine life.

Instead, it uses physical/mineral blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Why are oxybenzone and octinoxate harmful to coral reefs?

These chemicals can cause coral bleaching, disrupt the development of fish and marine life, and damage coral DNA.

How can I tell if a sunscreen is reef-safe?

Look for sunscreens that are labeled as "reef-safe" or "ocean-friendly."

Check the ingredients list for oxybenzone and octinoxate, and avoid sunscreens that contain these chemicals.

Do reef-safe sunscreens work as well as traditional sunscreens?

Yes, reef-safe sunscreens provide the same level of protection as traditional sunscreens. In fact, physical/mineral sunscreens have been found to be more effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays than chemical sunscreens.

Can reef-safe sunscreens be more expensive than traditional sunscreens?

Reef-safe sunscreens may be more expensive than traditional sunscreens because they often use more expensive mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. However, the cost difference is usually not significant and is worth the investment for the health of our oceans.

Are all natural or organic sunscreens reef-safe?

Not necessarily. Some natural or organic sunscreens may still contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, so it's important to read the ingredients list and choose a product that is labeled as "reef-safe."

Recommended Brands of Reef-Safe Sunscreens

While the brands listed below are generally considered to be good options for eco-friendly and safe sunscreens, it's important to note that some products within each brand may contain octinoxate and/or oxybenzone. It's important to check the ingredient list of any sunscreen product you're interested in to make sure it doesn't contain these chemicals. 

If you're specifically looking for sunscreens that are free of octinoxate and oxybenzone, focus on products that use physical blockers like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, as these ingredients are generally considered to be safe and effective alternatives.

Best Sunscreen for Babies and Children

Thinkbaby is a brand that is committed to producing safe and effective sunscreens that are free of harmful chemicals. They do not use octinoxate or oxybenzone in any of their sunscreen products. Instead, their sunscreens use physical blockers like zinc oxide to provide sun protection.

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen is specifically designed for babies and children, but it can be used by adults as well. This sunscreen is free of parabens, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals, and is also cruelty-free and vegan.

Thinkbaby's commitment to producing safe and eco-friendly sunscreens has earned them a positive reputation among consumers who are concerned about the impact of sunscreen on marine life and the environment.

Thinkbaby SPF 50+ Baby Sunscreen

Popular and Highly Rated Reef-Safe Sunscreens

There are many well-known and trusted sunscreen brands in the USA. Some of the most popular and highly rated brands that have products without harmful chemicals include:

Supergoop!

Supergoop! is a popular brand that offers a variety of sunscreens, including mineral-based sunscreens. Their mineral sunscreen is designed to provide broad-spectrum protection with 100% mineral UV filters, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It's also formulated to be gentle on the skin and free of potentially harmful ingredients like parabens, sulfates, and synthetic fragrances.

Supergoop! mineral sunscreen is available in both lotion and spray form, making it easy to apply to the skin. The lotion has a lightweight, non-greasy texture that absorbs quickly and is suitable for all skin types. The spray provides a convenient option for those who want to apply sunscreen quickly and evenly.

In addition to its sun protection benefits, Supergoop! mineral sunscreen is also formulated with nourishing ingredients like shea butter and jojoba oil to help keep skin hydrated and healthy. It's also reef-safe and ocean-friendly, meaning it does not contain harmful chemicals that can harm marine life.

Supergoop sunscreens

Supergoop! mineral sunscreen is a great choice for those who want a mineral-based sunscreen that is effective, gentle, and safe for both the skin and the environment. You can read more on Supergoop! and their range of sunscreens and skin care products here.

Neutrogena

This brand is widely recognized and offers a variety of sunscreen products for different skin types and needs. Many of Neutrogena's sunscreens contain octinoxate and oxybenzone, so check the ingredients before buying. 

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen is a mineral-based sunscreen that is specifically formulated to be gentle on sensitive skin.

It contains zinc oxide as the active ingredient, which provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. 

The sunscreen is designed to be lightweight and non-greasy, with a dry-touch finish that leaves no white residue on the skin. It is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it an ideal choice for outdoor activities.

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch Sunscreen

The Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen is free from fragrance, parabens, and other harmful chemicals, making it a safe and effective option for those with sensitive skin.

La Roche-Posay

This brand is known for its high-quality skincare products, including sunscreens that are designed for sensitive skin.

This sunscreen is designed to give your skin the best protection possible without using any harmful chemicals. It uses a blend of minerals, including titanium dioxide, that work to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It also includes a special plant extract called Senna Alata that helps to protect your skin cells from damage caused by the sun.

This sunscreen has a lightweight, non-greasy formula that won't leave a white residue on your skin, and it is free from fragrances, PABA and parabens.

La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50

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Coppertone

Coppertone Sport spray on sunscreen is a great option for those who want a quick and easy way to apply sunscreen. The continuous sprayer allows for even coverage from any angle, making it effortless to apply.

Plus, it's water resistant for up to 80 minutes, so you can enjoy your time in the sun without worrying about your sunscreen wearing off.

The best part is that it's free of harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, PABA, phthalates, and dyes. With this bulk pack, you get two 5.5 ounce bottles of Coppertone Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray, so you can use it whenever and wherever you need to.

Coppertone Sunscreen

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EltaMD

EltaMD is a brand that is trusted and recommended by dermatologists. They are known for creating mineral-based sunscreens that are safe for sensitive skin and free of harmful chemicals.

Rather than using chemicals like octinoxate and oxybenzone, they use active ingredients such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

This makes EltaMD an ideal choice for those who want a high-quality sunscreen that is both safe and effective.

Elta MD Broad Spectrum Clear Sunscreen

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Blue Lizard

Blue Lizard is a brand that is known for its commitment to producing environmentally friendly sunscreens that are safe for coral reefs and other marine life.

Blue Lizard 50+ mineral sunscreen is a popular sunscreen that is made with mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which provide broad-spectrum protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays. 

Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen 50+
Blue Lizard Sunscreen

The sunscreen is specifically designed for people with sensitive skin and is free of parabens, fragrances, and other irritating chemicals. The Blue Lizard 50+ mineral sunscreen is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for outdoor activities like swimming and sports.

Additionally, the bottle of the sunscreen is designed to turn blue in the presence of UV light, which is a helpful visual reminder to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.

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Banana Boat

Banana Boat sunscreen is a quick and easy to apply option that provides UVA/UVB protection against 98% of the sun's burning rays, providing you with broad-spectrum protection that helps prevent sunburn and skin damage. 

It's designed to withstand sweat and water, making it a great option for high endurance activities. It's also clinically proven and reef-friendly. Banana Boat sunscreen is a great choice for anyone who wants to protect their skin from the sun while also being mindful of the impact on the planet.

Banana Boat Sports Ultra Sunscreen

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It's always important to choose a sunscreen that is appropriate for your skin type and provides the protection you need. Bear in mind though, that every person's skin is different, and what works well for one person may not work as well for another. 

Conclusion

Using sunscreen is essential to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun, but it's important to use reef-safe sunscreens that are not harmful to marine life. Octinoxate and oxybenzone are two common sunscreen ingredients that have been found to be harmful to our oceans.

By choosing any of the reef-safe sunscreens recommended above, you can protect your skin and the ocean. I encourage you to choose a sunscreen that is safe for marine life and to spread awareness about the importance of using environmentally friendly sunscreens.

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About the Author

Sharon McKenzie

Sharon McKenzie is an Advanced Certified Scuba Diver who loves to explore the ocean depths. She is an advocate for marine and eco conservation, promoting sustainable products. In her free time, Sharon also enjoys paddleboarding and snorkeling. She has two upcoming diving expeditions to Bali and the Great Barrier Reef, which are destinations she has always wanted to explore.

Author Web Link

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