Recently, there has been significant media coverage recently regarding Hawaii’s ban on chemical sunscreens and talk about the importance of reef safe sunscreen. Specifically, studies have linked at least two popular UV-filtering ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate (both considered chemical sunscreen filters), to coral bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and ultimately death in coral.
Sunscreen washes off when we swim or participate in water activities, which can harm the coral and coral reefs. Finding a reef safe sunscreen is the first step in doing our part to remove chemical sunscreens from our oceans.
What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreens, whose main ingredients non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide do not pose a threat to our ocean’s coral reefs, are considered reef safe. These sunscreens are the environmentally-friendly choice for everyone, and especially for those who travel to oceanside destinations such as Hawaii.
It is also beneficial to use a water-resistant formula, which will be more likely to stay on the skin and will not easily wash into the water. Sunscreens with water-resistant labels are regulated terms, which means the product cannot be listed as water-resistant without proper regulatory testing.
Pro Tip: It is important to note that using a reef-safe mineral sunscreen is also the skin-friendly choice. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work by resting on top of the skin and acting as a protective shield, reflecting away UV rays. The effectiveness of this type of sunscreen does not diminish or lessen by being reef safe.
Double Check the Ingredients
Unfortunately, the terms ‘reef safe’ and ‘reef-friendly’ are not regulated and can be placed on product labels without any proof of claim. Therefore, it is important to carefully read the entire ingredient list to familiarize yourself with what is actually in your sunscreen product. If the sunscreen lists oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene as active ingredients, it is not reef safe.
There are numerous sources of information and education on the topic of chemical sunscreen and its impact on coral reefs. The National Ocean Service is a U.S.-based organization that offers this helpful resource guide for those looking to learn more on the topic:
Coral Reef Protection Efforts
There are a number of ocean and coral reef conservation groups that aim to help protect the ocean and coral reef populations. The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is one such nonprofit organization committed to saving the coral reefs. Their effort is to educate and inform the public about how we can all make a positive impact on coral populations.
Even if you live far away from coral reefs, you can have an impact on the health and wellness of the coral reef ecosystem. Choose mineral sunscreens that are reef safe and provide thorough UV protection and coverage, especially when spending time in the water.