What’s the Deal With Reef Safe Sunscreen?
In May of 2018, the state of Hawaii made a groundbreaking move to completely ban the sales non-reef safe sunscreen - why, you ask? Banning certain types of sunscreen in a place that’s tropical 365 days of the year at first sounds like a terrible idea, but let’s look closer.
Although it sounds kind of drastic, it was a move that was essential in order to preserve and protect the natural beauty of Hawaiian reefs - and hopefully sets an example for the world to take action. Approximately 25 to 60 MILLION bottles worth of sunscreen wash off into the ocean every year - more than enough to make an impact on sea life.
The two banned sunscreen ingredients, octinoxate and oxybenzone, were established as a direct cause of coral bleaching - essentially signing a death notice to the native Hawaiian coral. It only takes the equivalent amount of a drop of water in 3 Olympic-sized swimming pools for these two ingredients to affect the surrounding coral. If the oceans lose coral, entire habitats for other sea life will be lost - potentially irreversibly damaging our oceans if we don’t do something about it!
So, What Is Coral Bleaching?
Coral bleaching is the result of an overly stressed coral basically evicting its resident algae, which not only lend coral it’s vibrant colors but also supply coral with a source of food in a symbiotic relationship. When coral gets bleached, it essentially gets so stressed that it can’t feed or reproduce, and starves to death - a fate that faces coral reefs around the world.
Being poisoned by sunscreen isn’t the only factor that contributes to global coral bleaching - rising sea temperatures, acidifying oceans, and pollutants such as pesticides making their way into the sea also contribute. It’s so important to be aware of every single one of these factors so we can address them and prevent as much coral bleaching as possible. Avoiding coral-killing sunscreens is just the first step to protecting our oceans.
What Can I Do?
Check for reef safe labels, AND learn what exactly the harmful ingredients are so that you know what you’re looking for when you buy your next sunscreen.
Unfortunately, just because of how cosmetic labeling works, octinoxate and oxybenzone can sometimes appear under different names on some ingredients lists - we’ve added the other names to our handy list of tips so you know exactly what you’re looking for!
Here are our top tips for ensuring your sunscreen isn’t contributing coral bleaching:
- Use mineral-based sunscreen, like titanium and zinc dioxides. They’re reef safe and more gentle on sensitive skin.
- Wear UPF rated clothing if you’re not wearing any sunscreen at all. UPF rated clothes are specially designed to protect skin from UV rays.
- Look for “reef safe”labeling.
- Avoid nano-particle sunscreen. Titanium nano-particles can still be accidentally consumed by corals, poisoning them.
Double check the ingredients list of sunscreens (even if it’s labeled as a reef safe sunscreen!)
- Octinoxate may also be listed as octyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate
- Oxybenzone may also be listed as benzonephenone-3