Schooled in Sunscreen

Pity the poor fishes. There they are, just swimming around in the ocean minding their own business—all the while, humans are swimming around above them pointing and ogling them like they were paying for a show. It’s funny though, they don’t seem to mind. They don’t swim away from us and they don’t seem to be bothered by humans (how would we know if they were?) so I figure no harm, no foul. Right? Not so fast.

I love swimming in the ocean and I love snorkeling, but last week in Kauai I got to thinking about the pretty fish and how they felt about me and everyone else invading their turf. Turns out there is something to be concerned about: Sunscreen.

Obviously, sunscreen is a must. Especially for someone as fair as I am. But the schools of tropical fish I love so much could be in some serious trouble if swimmers don’t start thinking about what they are putting on their skin before getting into the water.

You see, there are several common ingredients in sunscreen that threaten the coral fish need to live, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

And since swimmers leave 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen in the world’s oceans every year, threatening the approximately 10 percent of the world’s coral that humans–and therefore sunscreen–come into contact with, we’ve got a problem.

So what are these problem ingredients? Paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone and a camphor derivative, according to this study.

I was extra careful to bring a paraben-free sunscreen after a recent bathroom cabinet makeover, so I chose this Aveeno Sunblock Spray. But what about that other stuff? Let’s see. Cinnamate? None. Benzophenone? Zip. Camphor derivative? Not that I can tell.

So yay! I got lucky on that one, and more importantly so did the fish! Especially considering that I went swimming three or four times every day I was there

Saving the Earth, one dip in the ocean at a time.

Please sign Care2′s petition to Protect Ocean Life During International Year of the Reef.

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Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

I'm a little bit amazed at what people put on without looking at ingredients. I guess with all the reports telling people to wear it this is what happens.

Masha Samoilova
Past Member 4 years ago


Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago

Good article. There's a lot of insight and perspective I never even considered. Thanks!

Bon L.
Bon L.4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C.5 years ago


Maria S.
Maria S.5 years ago

I never gave it any thought that my sunscreen was harmful to fish or the sea in general. I guess those chemicals are not good for us either.

carole hagen
.5 years ago

Interesting article----read it!

gail d.
gail dair5 years ago