Sunscreen Affecting Coral Reefs

The shocking reality of sunscreen ingredients.

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Spring is here! Everyone is out enjoying the sun at the beach, by the pool, park, or in the garden. We are all aware of the impact the sun has on our skin.

Australia does not have an Ozone layer and has been diminished since the 70s due to carbon emissions released into the air, called chlorofluorocarbons aka CFCs. When there is no Ozone layer the sun would reach the earth directly damaging plants and animals, including us.

It’s not well-known in the world that Australia offers 100+ SPF to protects us from those masty melanomas and skin cancers. Nowadays, 2/3 of all Australians will have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the time they are 70.

We are told to ‘Slip, slop, slap’ with sunscreen with more than 30+ SPF. However, there have been some speculations on the chemicals that are in sunscreens that are damaging our beautiful coral reefs and the ecosystem in the sea.

Photo by SGR on Unsplash

Coral reefs around the world are threatened by pollution from plastic, microplastics and the chemicals in sunscreen. Mainly places in Hawaii, Virgin Islands, the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
Studies from National Ocean Service say that sunscreen not only leaves our skin but leaves a slick of oil in the sea, the chemicals then damage the beautiful sea life especially our coral reefs.

Even if you don’t swim in the ocean some sunscreens like aerosols are sprayed into the air, the chemicals then land onto the sand and gradually into our oceans, or when you’re going home to shower the chemicals from the sunscreen are going down into the drain. All these factors which you never think of.

If coral reefs die, we would have lost a vital ecosystem — causing disruption in the entire lifecycle for marine and land mammals. Today, 61% of the world's fish stocks being fully fished, this means no food for fish and less fish for us. The food chain is then broken, species would become extinct.

There are 2 key ingredients to look out for when purchasing your next sunscreen that is responsible for killing and damaging our coral reefs are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate.

Image from EWG.org

Oxybenzone changes the DNA in coral cells and causes coral to become sterile and unable to reproduce. Additionally, young corals encase themselves where they starve and eventually die. Coral isn’t the only concern, fish are affected by decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish.

The most obvious is coral bleaching. Which could mean goodbye to our colourful corals if we don’t do anything to stop these ingredients from being manufactured.

Here are most of the brands to look out for that contain these chemicals. Banana Boat one of Australia’s leading sunscreen brands had to recall a couple of their products several years ago due to the chemical reactions involving burns after application, especially in infants.

Companies hurting our reefs and skin

Dermal absorption is not noticeable but in most cases, it can impact significant exposure. Many chemicals result in systemic toxicity if they infiltrate through the skin. Look out for those nasty ingredients!

What we put into our bodies same goes for what we put on our bodies.

If we’re responsible for the contamination of our oceans and deaths of our reefs. We are also the solution to creating a better future for our underwater ecosystems.

Here’s are a few tips on how you can contribute to protecting both your gorgeous skin and our coral reefs.

Reef safe sunscreen

Also, look out for the Reef Safe logo.

Some governments such as Hawaii and Palau have introduced bans on selling harmful sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. This is great news when it comes to boycotting big companies to alter their ingredients to change for a better future.

What better way to protect your skin than to wear additional clothing, hats, shirts or a cape. You can reduce the amount of sunscreen you put on yourself, just by covering yourself up! Pick shady spots for when you’re at the beach or playing and maybe watching sports on a field, bring your own beach tent/umbrella to pitch in sunny locations.

It doesn’t hurt to cover up, you may start a trend.

Summer is around the corner so next time when you’re out shopping for some sunblock grab that Reef Safe sunscreen, be wary of the ingredients because we can be the change for the generations to come, educators and leaders for a better future.

P.S. Slip slop slap! 🏄🏻‍♀️

Sources: EWG | Center for disease control and prevention | Save the Reef |

An avid traveler who wants to spread goodness, inspire and motivate others by word and mindfulness.