How Sunscreen Is Damaging Our Coral Reefs & How You Can Be Part Of The Solution

If you’re like me, you probably rely on heavy amounts of sunscreen to get through the summer months. I have extremely pale skin which makes me prone to getting sunburnt and freckling up.  

However, around 90 percent of sunscreens are severely damaging our coral reefs. 

While rising water temperatures due to climate, plastic pollution, ocean acidification, and overfishing are all factors that are detrimental to our reefs, sunscreen is part of the problem. 

Why Are Coral Reefs So Important?

While coral reefs support 25 percent of all marine life on the planet, they are also important for many other reasons.

Firstly, they protect coastlines from the erosive effects of wave action and tropical storms. This is due to the fact that they allow waves to break offshore and absorb most of the waves force. 

Another reason is that coral reefs are the source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains. They also assist in nitrogen and carbon fixation. 

Coral reefs have an estimated economic impact of $375 billion a year and around 500 million people depend on them for jobs. Isn’t it horrific that we are the ones destroying them!?

How Is Sunscreen Damaging Coral Reefs?

Image sourced from Dip ‘N Dive

So, how exactly is sunscreen part of this major issue? 

Good question, I’m glad you asked. 

Two ingredients commonly found in sunscreen, oxybenzone and octinoxate have proven to be toxic to living coral. In 2015, the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology published a paper disclosing oxybenzone as a genotoxicant for coral, even in low concentrations. In short, this means that it has a destructive effect on a cell’s genetic material and can cause mutations. The chemical enters the ocean when we swim with sunscreen on as well as after we wash ourselves at home.

These chemical culprits cause the coral stress, lose nutrients, bleach and often die. When they do become stressed, they remove themselves from their algae. This is known as coral bleaching. 

How Coral Bleaching Works

Reef Damage To Date:

According to Dr Craig A Downs from Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, 40 percent of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef are gone and 99 percent of coral reefs in the Florida Keys are gone. 

Read: 25 Of The BEST Natural Sunscreens To Keep Your Skin Protected This Summer!

What Is The Solution?

There are a few key things you can do to be part of the solution in saving coral reefs. 

Firstly, there are two types of sunscreen, physical and chemical. 

Physical sunscreen is also known as mineral sunscreen. These sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which work by putting a physical barrier over the skin to prevent it from burning. 

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain compounds such as oxybenzone and octinoxate which cause a chemical reaction to occur. This turns UV rays into heat before escaping from the skin.

Physical sunscreens are less harmful to coral and are not linked to coral bleaching, unlike their counterpart. When choosing a sunscreen, ensure that it is mineral or mineral based and contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. 

Another thing to look out for is ingredients that are non-nano. Eg: non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide.  This means that the ingredient particles are below 100 nanometers in size and therefore cannot be ingested by corals.

Choosing a reef safe sunscreen doesn’t have to be hard. We hope this post helped you and simplified the issue a bit for you. Let us know in the comments if you use a reef safe sunscreen!

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How Sunscreen Is Damaging Our Coral Reefs & How You Can Be Part Of The Solution


Founder + Blogger

Hey there! I'm Brodie, the passionate blogger behind Ethically Engaged. My mission is to find ethical lifestyle options to lead you in the direction of conscious consumerism. I hope you enjoy coming along this journey with me x

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