Why is Sunscreen Damaging to the Ocean?
When we apply sunscreen, the chemicals are later washed off in the ocean when we swim. They can even go down the drain during showering, which means they inevitably end up in the ocean too. In fact, it’s estimated that 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen end up in the ocean every year!
Not only are these sunscreen chemicals harmful to sea creatures, but they are also a significant cause of coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when corals become stressed by negative changes in conditions. This causes them to lose their beautiful colors and turn completely white. If this continues, the coral will eventually die. Reefs worldwide, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, have been affected hugely by coral bleaching.
However, the good news is that coral can recover and regrow after bleaching. We have to change our regular habits, by swapping out regular sunscreen for reef-safe sunscreen.
Why is Coral Important?
We must protect and care for coral, as it generates nearly 50% of the world’s oxygen! Not only that, but coral reefs act as a habitat for around 25% of the world’s marine species. Fish and other marine life have less food and places to live when corals get damaged. The effect of this is a reduction in marine life, which can cause fishing and tourism problems, something that many coastal communities rely on for their economy.
Did you know? The reef also acts as a natural barrier to prevent flooding.
How to check for Reef-safe Sunscreen and what ingredients to avoid?
The three main ingredients to watch out for in your sunscreen are Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene. These are all popular ingredients that are believed to contribute highly to coral bleaching. Because of this, countries like Hawaii and Palau have banned these ingredients. (applause!)
By spreading awareness and reducing the consumer need for these products, there is hope that more countries will do the same.
Check out petitions you can sign (like this one in Florida) or start a petition yourself.
Why Choose a Reef-Safe Sunscreen?
Regular sunscreen not only contains toxic ingredients but is often made up of super tiny particles. This means they can be absorbed easily by both marine life and humans. Unfortunately, these particles are even smaller in sunscreen sprays and aerosols.
In contrast, reef-safe sunscreens eliminate all the toxic chemicals and replace them with mainly natural ingredients (which are better for your skin too!). These new sunscreens are also made with bigger particles to stop corals from absorbing them. However, make sure to always check the ingredients are ‘non-nano’ before buying; scientists say that they must be over 100 nanometers in order to not be absorbed by corals.
Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen Brands
Below are a handful of great reef-safe sunscreens from small companies helping to look after the corals and ocean. All products below are purchasable in Europe or the USA. Please consider using one of these on your next holiday.
1. Suntribe (EU)
Suntribe has a range of ‘non-nano Zinc Oxide’ reef-safe sunscreens. They also contain organic coconut oil to help moisturize the skin. The Suntribe sunscreen is sold in a tube made from sugar cane which is fully recyclable. Available at Amazon Europe.
2. Raw Elements (US)
Another great option is Raw Element’s ‘non-nano Zinc Oxide’ reef-safe sunscreen. It’s packed full of natural and organic ingredients. Most of their products come in a recyclable/reusable tin.
Available at Amazon US.
3. SurfDurt (US)
SurfDurt has various options of ‘non-nano Zinc Oxide’ reef-safe sunscreen. Additionally, with every purchase of SurfDurt, a portion of the proceeds goes to a community project. This one below contributes to surf therapy for young children of color. SurfDurt comes in a bamboo and aluminum reusable container. Available at Amazon US.
4. Butter Me Up Organics (US)
This small zero-waste company has created a reef-safe sunscreen that is non-nano and made with Zinc Oxide. The product is made with organic shea butter, mango butter, and coconut oil. Delicious! Butter Me Up sunscreen is packed in a recyclable glass jar. Available at Amazon US.
5. Sol de Ibiza (EU)
This small island company produces non-nano Zinc Oxide reef-safe sunscreen. Plus, 1% of all sales go towards various schemes that preserve and protect the natural environment. Last year, proceeds went towards the Ibiza & Formentera preservation. Sol de Ibiza’s eco-friendly packaging is made from recyclable aluminum. Available at Amazon EU.