Growing up in the ever cloudy Pacific Northwest meant that I did wear sunscreen that often as a kid. It was during those few sunny summer months that my parents always reminded us to lather up with sunscreen (and yes I’m aware that you should wear sun protection year round, not just in the sunshine). Like most kids I never thought too much about putting on sunscreen; I was just happy to not be burnt and in pain. It wasn’t until recently that I became more interested in what exactly I was putting on my skin. As long as a sunscreen didn’t use animal testing I figured it was fine to use...boy was I wrong.
So what is the problem with a large majority of sunscreens? They contain harsh chemicals that destroy the ocean’s coral reefs. Traditional sunscreen (brands that most are familiar with) contain chemicals such as Oxybenzone, Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-methybenzylidene camphor. These chemicals come off when we enter the water and have been proven to disrupt coral reproduction, damage coral DNA, and cause coral bleaching. Reefs are living, complex, and delicate ecosystems that support marine life and killing them is having drastic effects on our oceans. Coral reefs occupy less than one perfect of the ocean floor but contain more than a quarter of all marine species.
When we are in tropical places we love to snorkel and admire the reefs and various sea creatures that call the reef home. Unfortunately, the sunscreen that most people use is destroying the reefs at a rapid rate. A report by the World Resources Institute said that 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk and about a quarter of them have already been damaged beyond repair. If we keep living the same way it is predicted that 90 percent of the reefs will be in danger by 2030.
Worst of all is spray on sunscreen. When you’re at the beach and begin spraying yourself, a majority of that sunscreen isn’t going on your body. Instead it is traveling through the air to the ocean. When I was in Hawaii on beaches with a lot of people, you could actually see a film of sunscreen on top of the water. These harsh chemicals are being absorbed by the reefs, thus resulting in their deaths and damage beyond repair.
So what can we do to stop this? Buy reef safe sunscreen. This is sunscreen that doesn’t contain any of the harsh chemicals listed above. Terms such as “Reef Safe” or “Reef Friendly” are unregulated. Therefore, the best way to ensure your sunscreen is actually reef safe is to read the ingredients. If you can’t afford or find reef safe lotion, use a water resistant sunscreen. When it is water resistant it is less likely to come off in the water and harm the coral reefs. Also, use a sunscreen that has been tested as biodegradable; this ensures the product will breakdown when in the marine ecosystem.
I’ll be the first to admit that reef safe sunscreen tends to be more expensive than traditional products. For me it seems worth it to spend a few extra dollars to ensure my sunscreen isn’t killing the coral reefs. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I LOVE Alba Botanica products so it’s no surprise I use their sunscreen too. On my recent trip to Hawaii I used the Sport Mineral Sunscreen: Fragrance free lotion SPF 45. I swam, ran, and hiked in this sunscreen and never had it running in my eyes. It protected me from the harsh sun while being reef safe and biodegradable.
Switching to reef safe sunscreen is a simple step we can all take to help protect the world’s coral reefs. Something as simple as buying a different brand can make all the difference. It is up to us to take responsibility for our actions; to protect our planet, its species, and delicate ecosystems. So with summer right around the corner I encourage you to think of coral reefs and all the species that inhabit them before you buy your next bottle of sunscreen.
Losing Our Coral Reefs
Coral Reef Friendly/ Reef Safe Sunscreen
FILM: Reefs at Risk