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I love summer – the heat, the sunshine, the fun activities, the warm evenings…ahhhhhh, so nice.  Whether you are hitting the beach, pool, or going outside at all, wearing sunscreen is a good idea. But did you know that not all sunscreen is okay to wear at the beach? Read on to learn what makes a sunscreen coral-safe.
As it turns out, not all sunscreens are created equally in terms of their impact on the environment. There are 2 main types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Let’s break these down.
Chemical sunscreens:
These sunscreens contain chemicals that are UV-filters and prevent UV rays from reaching your skin. What are these chemicals? Check your sunscreen bottles for these chemical names: avobenzone, dioxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, padimate-o and sulisobenzone.
Physical sunscreens:
These use zinc oxide as the primary sunblocking-ingredient. The UV rays bounce off the zinc, creating a physical barrier. These are also called mineral sunscreens.
Which one is better?
The ingredients in chemical sunscreen, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found to be harmful to coral reefs, where they cause developmental problems for baby coral and contribute to coral bleaching (1). Like pretty much all chemicals we use, they make their way into the environment over time. In the case of sunscreens, we may be using them out in the environment (like at the beach)! Chemical sunscreens are so common that scientists can detect them in ocean water at popular beach swimming areas (1,2)!
Recently, global concern for coral health has prompted places like Hawaii to ban some of the worst chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. This ban is going into effect on January 1st 2021, giving sunscreen makers some time to remove those chemicals from their products.
So, how do you choose a sunscreen that is safe for the environment and coral-safe? A good place to start is EWG’s best beach sunscreens. EWG’s list includes >200 sunscreens, so there are a lot to choose from!
I personally use the mineral sunscreen lotion from BeautyCounter and from ThinkSport.
Want more eco-friendly tips? Read my posts on reusable grocery bags, biodegradable sponges, and reusable water bottles.
Sources I used to write this post:
1. Downs, C. A. et al. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 70, 265–288 (2016).
2. Bratkovics, S., Wirth, E., Sapozhnikova, Y., Pennington, P. & Sanger, D. Baseline monitoring of organic sunscreen compounds along South Carolina’s coastal marine environment. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 101, 370–377 (2015).