Besides their mesmerizing beauty, coral reefs offer a variety of environmental, economic, and cultural benefits. But in recent years, scientists and researchers have discovered that coral reefs are slowly deteriorating—with a number of elements, including sunscreen, to blame.
Coral reefs are one of the Earth’s most naturally beautiful and valuable lifeforms. They reduce the impacts of erosion and storms, provide food and medicine, create millions of jobs, and attract tourists for recreational activities. Coral reefs also provide safety and food for various marine animals, such as sea turtles and approximately one quarter of the oceans’ fish. Furthermore, algae living within the reefs provide copious oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While the planet is gifted amazing benefits through the existence of coral reefs, we could definitely do a better job in taking care of them and the ocean as a whole. In light of pollution and climate change, these valuable resources are facing serious risk. It’s been reported that the amount of coral reefs worldwide is threatened to decrease by 70-90% in the next 20 years, and possibly to die out completely by 2100. Between 1994 and 2006, reefs near Maui, Hawai’i have lost 25% of living coral.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered numerous episodes of bleaching, where coral polyps expel beneficial algae—and in 2016, nearly 30% of the reef died. One of the stressors that affects coral reefs turns out to be a popular staple for tropical vacations— sunscreen!
You may have heard that chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, found in certain sunscreens are harmful to our health. However, the devastating effects can extend beyond us and into the ecosystem! These nasty chemicals build up in tissues of coral reefs and marine life, damaging their DNA and causing various deformities.
In recognition of the value of coral reefs, Hawaii has enacted a law making the sales of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate illegal. This law was passed in 2018, and recently went into effect on January 1, 2021.
Hawaii was the first state in the U.S. to enact this ban. Other areas, such as Aruba, Key West, and the Marshall Islands, have followed the reef-friendly example. For travelers planning a sunny getaway, no worries—there are alternative sunscreens available. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration suggests using mineral-based sunscreens, particularly those with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and without nanoparticles, as a safer option. Here are a few sunscreen alternatives that are reef-safe:
The Blue Lizard Sunscreen reef-safe formula boasts one of the highest safety ratings from the EWG, and is composed of both zinc oxide and titanium oxide—among a number of other active ingredients. The solution is free of harsh chemicals and fragrance, so it’s a super light formula that’s perfect for any skin type. And arguably one of the coolest elements of the product is its bottle, which turns blue in UV light and acts a reminder to reapply every two hours.
Badger’s reef safe sunscreens never use any of the normal, harmful ingredients that can be found in the solutions of other mainstream brands. The Badger brand was also one of the first to receive the Protect Land & Sea Certification.
Alba Botanica prides itself on its love for the planet’s “fishy friends and the coral reefs where they live.” To support that belief, the brand offers a wide range of environmentally friendly sunscreen options, all of which are made with biodegradable and reef friendly formulas.