How Your Sunscreen is Affecting Coral Reefs

How Your Sunscreen is Affecting Coral Reefs


4 action steps for anyone who cares about the health of our coral reefs.

You may have wondered about the ingredients in your sunscreen and how they affect your body, but we now know that those ingredients could be harming our oceans’ reefs.

Sunscreen, even the water-resistant kind, is meant to be reapplied after swimming. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that the ocean washes our bodies clean of whatever we have on our skin when we enter it. If you’ve spent time snorkeling above a coral reef, you know the wonder of witnessing that undersea world- teeming with all kinds of life forms, from the familiar to the bizarre.

The U.S. National Park Service estimates that 4,000-6000 tons of sunscreen wash off annually onto reef areas. They released a bulletin on the impacts of sunscreens on our coral reefs,, “Researchers testing the effects of sunscreen on corals explain that chemicals in sunscreen can awaken coral viruses. The coral then becomes sick and expel their life-giving algae. Without these algae, the coral ‘bleaches’ (turns white), and often dies.”

Sunscreen companies are jumping on board, developing formulations that rely on physical barrier ingredients rather than these harmful chemicals. Caroline Duell, founder of All Good Products and an avid kite surfer explains why she got involved in creating reef friendly products,

“I’ve known and suspected potential dangers of active sunscreen ingredients for a long time, but last year I decided to take a much stronger stand on the issue. In June of 2016 I attended the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu where I learned the results of research from Dr. Craig Downs and his colleagues. Active chemical sunscreens are destroying reefs. We set out to educate consumers about this, and to offer them a safe, effective and enjoyable alternative.”

In July of this year, Duell and her team launched a ‘Reef Friendly’ campaign, to educate consumers about the damage chemical sunscreens are having on our reefs. She offers the following action steps for anyone who cares about the health of our coral reefs:

1. Read your sunscreen label. Dubbed the ‘awful eight’, these chemicals have been found to be the most harmful - and are also the most common:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Enzacamene
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • PABA (Aminobenzoic Acid)
  • Avobenzone

2. Choose non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are effective UVA and UVB sun blocks, that have minimal impact on your body, (since it’s efficacy does not require absorption), and on the reefs.

3. Educate your local stores. Start a conversation at your local surf or dive shop. Encourage them to only sell reef friendly sunscreen, and to educate their customers on the subject.

4. Spread the Word. Take the reef friendly pledge, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.

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