You need to choose a coral reef safe sunscreen before your next trip to the beach.
Forget that old bottle you have lurking in the back of your bathroom closet. And definitely, don’t go for the same mainstream brand you’ve been using forever.
Because if you do, you’ll be partly responsible for the death and destruction of coral and coral reefs across the world. Really.
Whilst you’ve been happily chilling out at the beach and enjoying the ocean over the years, the sunscreen you’ve been (very sensibly) wearing has been slowly washing off your skin and killing coral reefs.
Researchers say that an astonishing 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions end up this way, and even more shockingly, that 80% of the gorgeous coral reefs in the Caribbean have been lost because of sunscreens.
That’s why last week, Hawaiian officials passed a ground-breaking bill which banned the use of sunscreens which contain the two worst reef-bleaching chemicals; oxybenzone and octinoxate. This is their last-ditch attempt to protect their struggling coral reefs.
Which leaves us with a massive problem.
Because these nasty coral-killing ingredients aren’t just in a handful of sunscreens but in almost all the sunscreens we’ve ever used.
So, if you’re a sun-worshipper or fan of the outdoors, you want to protect yourself from skin cancer and you also want to protect the health of the world’s coral reefs, what are you supposed to do? You can’t exactly ditch sunscreen altogether, despite your principles…
But you don’t have to! There are many wonderful coral reef safe sunscreens out there which will help protect your skin and coral reefs around the world from damage. Here’s what you need to know about the chemicals and choosing a better brand of sunscreen.
What’s the deal with those sunscreen chemicals?
Hawaii passed the sunscreen bill because of the toxic chemicals which almost all regular sunscreens contain. These are oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3) and octinoxate, and have been proven to damage and even kill coral reefs. Here’s why:
#1: They bleach coral reefs
Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause coral reef bleaching. This happens when the algae that usually lives on its surface disappears, exposing the coral underneath and causing it to turn white. If it doesn’t immediately die, it will be more susceptible to disease and much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
#2: They prevent coral reproducing properly
Oxybenzone damages coral DNA, leaving it unable to reproduce properly. When this happens, we get fewer coral reefs, and the ones we do have are likely to be deformed and sick.
#3: They can cause coral deformations and strange behavior
These chemicals can also cause disruptions in the coral reef hormone balance which cause strange growth patterns in adult coral.
These two are the only chemicals which have been singled out by the Hawaiian authorities so far, but they’re certainly not the only sunscreen ingredients which affect coral reefs and marine life.
Butylparaben (related to the dangerous parabens in your cosmetics), and 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor (4MBC) are two other harmful chemicals which have also been linked to coral bleaching and are best avoided.
So, how do I choose a coral reef safe sunscreen?
There are plenty of coral reef safe sunscreens you can choose instead so your summer fun doesn’t result in coral death.
#1: Read the labels on your bottles of sunscreen
Start by getting into the habit of reading your sunscreen bottles to check whether they are coral reef safe, just like you would your food labels.
First watch out for those four toxic chemicals (oxybenzone, octinoxate, Butylparaben and 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor). Also make an effort to buy an organic, biodegradable, non-toxic, reef-friendly product which hasn’t been tested on animals.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the labels, remember the Hawaii State Department’s slogans: ‘If You Can’t Say It, Don’t Spray It.’
#2: Use one of these coral reef safe sunscreens instead
Here’s my top pick of the best coral reef safe sunscreens on the market.
1. The Green People
The Green People produce a wide range of organic and natural sunscreens and skin-care products that are free from harsh chemicals and not tested on animals. Their award-winning sunscreen range is non-toxic, coral reef-safe and available in a range of SPFs. They also have a lovely product that’s great for the kids too.
The biodegradable, performance-tested sunscreens from Stream2Sea are one of the best options if you’re a big fan of diving, snorkeling or just lazing it up in the sea. They offer both regular and tinted sunscreen and their prices are very affordable too.
3. Tom’s of Maine
Tom’s of Maine offer the most gorgeous coral reef safe baby sunscreen which is great for grown-ups too. It’s fragrance-free and created using just five ingredients to create a SPF30 reef-friendly sunscreen which you know won’t cause nasty skin issues or worsen ocean pollution.
4. Raw Elements
Raw Elements certainly gets my vote as one of the best coral reef safe sunscreens out there. Just look at their mission: ‘to create the safest, most effective sunscreen on the planet’! And what they create is impressive – water-resistant, long-lasting, nano-free, certified natural and organic and safe for everyone!
5. Badger Healthy Body Care
Badger Body Care is a family-owned, family-operated, and family-friendly company and they’re pros at what they do- creating gorgeous, planet-friendly products which don’t cost the earth. They have a great range of sunscreens for babies and kids, active sports, and daily use that you know won’t go damaging any coral reefs or killing marine life any time soon.
6. Australia Gold Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotions
Give yourself a taste of luxury with this beautifully scented, mineral sunscreen which is free from all kinds of nasties like oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, PABA, SLS, dyes, and oils. Available in SPF 30 and SPF50, it’s soft, non-greasy and feels lovely on your skin.
#3: Be sensible in the sun
Don’t forget there’s also a huge benefit to just being sensible in the sun. Instead of slapping on the sunscreen, protect your skin by covering up with regular clothing like t-shirts and sunhats.
Also, avoid those hotter midday hours between 11 am and 2 pm when the sun is strongest. You’ll still get your tan, but you’ll save dollars on sunscreen and protect those coral reefs too.
So next time you’re planning a trip to the beach, think twice about what sunscreen you’re using and opt for a natural, coral reef safe brand instead. Just one switch could help a coral reef survive or recover.