How to Tell if Your Sunscreen is Damaging Coral Reefs

During your family vacation this summer, you may be slathering on loads of sunscreen to help protect against skin cancer—which is important to do. But if you dip below the surface, you’ll find some chemicals in sunscreen have the ability to damage coral reef beyond repair.

Coral Reef Bleaching

Unlike any other time in history, coral reefs are bleaching at an unprecedented rate. Bleaching means that the coral has expelled algae from itself and essentially dies. One report notes that 93 percent of the world’s largest coral reef, The Great Barrier Reef, has been damaged by bleaching in some form. Scientists point to global warming as the likely culprit for this insane amount of dead and dying coral. But unfortunately, a 2015 study revealed that your sunscreen only makes the problem worse.

This study found that the chemical oxybenzone in sunscreen damages new coral. The chemical disrupts skeletal endocrine function, impairs DNA formation and promotes a coral virus that causes the coral to become sick and die, which exacerbates bleaching.

The U.S. National Park Service states that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter the ocean every year. These concentrations aren’t diluted across the world’s oceans but instead are concentrated at tourist destinations like coral reefs.

Why Coral Reefs Matter

Coral reefs make up only 0.1 percent of the ocean floor but support 25 percent of all marine species. In addition to supporting marine species, coral reefs support land communities in several ways.

  • Food Source: Coral reefs provide a habitat for fish which is a source of food and income for locals and the world.
  • Tourism and Hospitality Industry: Reefs attract tourists from around the world which create massive revenue in the hospitality and tourism industry.
  • Protect the Environment: Reefs act as environment protectors by absorbing additional carbon in the water, known as “carbon sinks.”
  • Aesthetics: Coral reefs offer natural beauty to the landscape unmatched elsewhere in nature.

The reef can hardly do its job when it has to protect itself from unusually warm water caused by global warming and the undue burden of sunscreen toxicity.

Related: Why is Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?

Sunscreen Solutions

Despite these grim statistics and information, you shouldn’t avoid the use of sunscreen. Your health is important. And there several ways you can diminish the impact of your sunscreen on coral reefs.

Read the Label

While no sunscreen is 100 percent “reef-friendly,” you can purchase products with less harmful chemicals. For instance, sunscreens with titanium oxide and zinc oxide are safer for reefs than products with oxybenzone, but these chemicals aren’t perfect either.

For even more reef-friendly products, check out lotions that use non-nano titanium oxide coated in aluminum, like Stream2Sea. These non-nano particles don’t enter the coral like the others do, and are much safer for coral health.

There are more “natural” sunscreen brands on the market today than ever before, so your selection is by no means limited. When you pick a more reef-friendly brand you can even bet the product is better for your health, too.

Simpler is Better

When you read the label—kind of like when you read food packaging—simpler is better. If your lotion contains a list of chemicals that you can’t pronounce, then run in the other direction. Pick products that have short lists. And even keep an eye out for products that promote “reef-friendly” on the label.

An Alternative to Sunscreen

Also, an alternative to sunscreen is wearing more clothing. Wear a swimsuit that covers more of your body and a hat and sunglasses to cover your head, face, eyes and ears. When you take these extra measures you immediately and easily reduce the total amount of sunscreen entering the water.

Coral bleaching is a major issue for our times. And saving the reef goes far beyond which and how much sunscreen you wear. But it’s a small step in the right direction. And you can know you’ve at least done something to help move us in the right direction.

Your Sunscreen May Not Be As Safe As You Think
Why an Expensive Sunscreen Could Be a Dangerous Waste of Money
10 Ways You’re Hurting the Environment and Don’t Know It

Photo Credit: Pixabay


Dennis Hall
Dennis Hallabout a month ago


Carl R
Carl R2 months ago


Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

I try to make my own

Teresa W
Teresa W2 months ago

thank you

Teresa W
Teresa W2 months ago


Panchali Y
Panchali Yapa2 months ago

Thank you

Edgar Z
Edgar Zuim2 months ago


Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Carl R
Carl R2 months ago


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago