Today we’re talking reef-safe sun protection. Why does it matter? What makes sunscreens harmful? What can you do about it?

Over the past decade scientists have proven that the common chemicals found in sunscreens lead to coral bleaching and a decline in healthy marine growth and reproduction.

Because the sunscreen we slather on our bodies doesn't necessarily stay on our bodies, tiny nanoparticles of these harmful chemicals leach from our skin into the sea and react with sunlight to create hydrogen peroxide, a well-known coral bleaching agent. In addition, when hydrogen peroxide builds up at high levels in our seas it can hinder the growth of phytoplankton, a microscopic algae that larger marine animals feed on. And, if you’re like us and choose to rinse off at the beach before getting in the car, you’re now washing these chemicals straight into our waterways.

Dolphins specifically can accumulate these chemicals in their tissues and potentially even transfer them to their young. And the even scarier part, a lot of companies that smack that “reef-safe” label on their bottle haven’t actually tested and proven that their sunscreen is indeed reef safe.

So what can you do about it?  Well first, know your stuff! Always be sure to check your ingredient list on the sunscreen bottle to make sure no harmful chemicals are listed.  The best choice (and the soon to be only legal one) is to use only mineral-based sunscreens with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

After that, it’s back to sun safety basics, i.e., Avoiding the hottest times of the days, using a beach umbrella, rocking a stellar sun hat, and choosing UV protected swimwear (like our regenerated swimwear fabrics for example).

Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid:

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3)
  •  Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate)
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Benzylparaben
  • Triclosan

Reef-Safe Sun Tips:

  • Avoid being outside during the hottest times of the time (10AM-2PM).
  • Use a sun-hat, UV eye protection, and protective clothing.
  • Use only sunscreens with 'non-nano' particle ingredients. Meaning, the ingredient particles are over 100 nanometers in size and therefore cannot be ingested by coral.
  • Choose mineral-based sunscreens with the ingredients non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  According to Chasing Coral, "Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are mineral-based, so rather than being absorbed like traditional sunscreen, the particles of these ingredients sit on top of the skin and block harmful UV rays. These ingredients are less harmful to corals and are not linked to coral bleaching."

Have a favorite reef-loving sunscreen brand? Share it with us in the comments and let’s help spread our passion for a healthier sea, together. 


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