Reef Safe Sunscreen – Legit or a Scam to Get You to Buy?

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen? If you don’t know, your sunscreen may be killing our oceans; specifically the coral reefs! However, some sun protection manufacturers are now producing what you call reef safe sunscreen? Are these so called UV protection products the real deal or are they just a scam by calling them ‘reef safe’ to make you feel good about buying their so called reef safe sunscreen product?

As if climate change isn’t enough, there’s another threat to our biodiverse environments; specifically our oceans. Scientists are now telling us that something we’re all doing is actually killing our oceans.

And it has to do with those coconut-scented sunscreen and sunblock products that we slather or spray on our bodies. From the manufacturer, the stores that sell the to the consumer who uses them, we can do better!

The chemical ingredients in sunscreens are detrimentally impacting and harming our ocean coral reefs, sea life and aquatic plants.

Your everyday UV protection skin products that’s supposed to protect us from cancer are big culprits to the destruction of our ocean coral and barrier reefs.

However, after much pressure from both environmentalists and our federal government, sunblock manufacturers are reformulating their products to reef safe sunscreens that are intended to be just as safe; for humans and our ocean coral reefs.

These alternative reef safe sunscreen products are allegedly as effective to protect from UV rays but also, are helping to preserve our coral reefs and ocean environments.

So, before you hit the beach or go on that salt water adventure, you need to read this! Let’s dive in to see why reef safe sunscreen is so important to our oceans and which reef safe sunscreens are really safe for our oceans?

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen - Always On Liberty

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What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Is Reef Safe Sunscreen a Scam or the Real Deal?

Why ocean and coral reefs are dying

Great Barrier Reef - Always On Liberty
Photo By Karen Davis – Getty Images

Coral Reefs are vital to our ocean’s ecosystem. They provide necessary sources of food for fish and other ocean wildlife. Without the many different species of coral, our ocean cannot sustain life. 

Sadly though, due to global warming and ocean acidification, our living coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate.  

In a 2020 study, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) reports,

“between 2009 and 2018 there was a progressive loss of about 14% of the coral from the world’s coral reefs primarily caused by recurring, large-scale bleaching events.

In all, about 11,700 square kilometres of hard coral, which is more than all the coral currently living on Australia’s coral reefs, were lost.”

This is huge considering approximately 25% of marine life and over 4000 species of fish are dependent upon coral reefs at some point throughout their life cycle. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA)

But this isn’t just about the coral reefs. As we mentioned, it affects all sea life that depends on corals and reefs to live.

Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life
Image by NOAA

What is ocean acidification?

In my saga at the Salton Sea in California, I explained the science behind introducing unnatural chemicals to natural environments.

Though the Salton Sea is not an ocean, the same acidification process is what happened to its’ ecosystem. Chemicals from agricultural runoff literally suppressed anything living in the body of water.

Similarly, that’s what’s happening with toxic chemicals in the ocean due to ingredients in sunscreen and sunblock products. It’s deeply affecting our ocean and its’ coral reefs.

How non reef safe sunscreen affects our oceans?

marine biologist measures bleached coral
Marine biologist measures bleached coral in an underwater field of dying or dead coral – Photo source: Canva

Who’d ever think something so simple as a preventative measure we used to prevent skin cancer plays such a huge factor in threatening our ocean ecosystems?

In 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report,

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 US Virgin Islands.”

In a nutshell, the study reports up to 14,000 TONS of sunscreen ends up in our oceans EACH YEAR. This puts at least 10% of our world’s coral reefs at risk or exposure and approximately 40% of our coastal coral reefs at risk of exposure.

So, while the chemicals oxybenzone (B-3) and octinoxate may be effective at blocking UV rays, they are extremely toxic endocrine disruptors to aquatic life. They are literally choking out our reefs.

When large amounts of sunscreen containing these unnatural elements wash off of your skin into the ocean it disrupts the ecosystem; increasing coral bleaching and causing deformities in fish.

Think about that for a moment. The lotion that we slather on to protect our own health is actually killing our ocean’s health!

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What reef safe sunscreen initiatives are taking place to save our reefs

Save Our Coral Reefs by Using Reef Safe Sunscreen-2

According to Positive Reef Initiative, In 2018, the Hawaii state legislature passed a statewide ban that prohibits the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Those chemicals are just two of those ‘bleaching events’ stated in that above study. Scientists are finding they are detrimental to local fish and coral reefs.

So now, all businesses and stores in the Hawaiian islands must ensure that none of their sunscreen or sunblock products they sell contain those chemicals. All sales outlets and stores must sell nothing but reef safe sunscreen and sunblock products.

And now, other travel destinations like Australia, Virgin Islands, and Key West, Florida are joining in the efforts. In places of high concentration of coral reefs, only reef safe sunscreen is allowed.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t ensure those environmentally-dangerous sun blockers aren’t still being used though.

Because many people order skin protection products online, they may not even be aware of the mandate or even the dangers they impose on the ocean environment.

Even if they are, some ocean beach goers, surfers and snorkelers seemingly are more concerned about not getting skin cancer instead of our taking care of our blue spaces.

And, with that, sunscreen manufacturers will continue to pump out more environmentally-toxic sunscreen products out of their factories.

This is precisely why we’re putting this information out there. To educate so we all can become more aware of the sunscreen products we use and how they impact our planet.

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Is your sunblock really a reef-safe sunscreen?

Differentiating between the toxic sunblock versus reef-safe sunscreen all comes down to the active ingredients. But, even the size of minerals can have an impact on our coral reefs as well.

Plain and simple, avoid sunscreen products containing the two common UV blocker chemicals, octinoxate and oxybenzone (B-3).

Studies are showing that those chemical ingredients are bleaching coral.

In layman’s terms, bleach kills living organisms. Those highly toxic chemicals are contributing to coral reef endangerment and destruction.

Instead, look for reef safe sunscreen ingredients that specifically read ‘non-nano’. Or, make sure the nanometer size is larger than 100. You should opt for mineral sunscreens that use ingredients such as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

If you see sunscreens or sunblock products that have those dangerous ingredients, octinoxate and/or oxybenzone (B-3), on the store shelves, kindly educate the manager and ask them to remove the product from their inventory.

In fact, pull up this article that explains exactly what a reef safe sunscreen is and share it with them. At the end, we list sunscreens that are reef friendly.

Which are not reef safe sunscreen products?

Toxic Sunscreens
Photo credit: Cindy Ellen Russel / Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Unfortunately, most sunscreens on the market are not only detrimental to our ocean reefs, but also unsafe for any nature water environment.

And I have to be quite contrite here in saying that most sunblocks out there aren’t even safe for humans anymore.

In fact, in a Harvard Medical School report, Johnson and Johnson pulled 5 aerosol sunscreen products and CVS stopped selling 2 sunscreen products because of the presence of the carcinogen benzene.

And, those toxic and even lethal chemicals upset the balance of the underwater environments in our fresh water lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

Sunscreens that have the following ingredients are widely believed to be destructive to coral reefs and ocean ecosystems:

      • Oxybenzone
      • Octinoxate
      • Octocrylene
      • Homosalate
      • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
      • Para-aminobenzoic acid
      • Parabens
      • Triclosan
      • Petrolatum
      • High content of Titanium Dioxide
      • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)
      • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”

Seriously though, do you really want to be putting those on your or your family’s skin to be absorbed into your bodies anyways?

Some familiar sunscreen brands you should eliminate from your snorkeling gear or beach or day cruise bag include Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic, just to name a few.

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Which Reef Safe Sunscreen is good for your family?

Reef Safe Sunscreen on Beach - Always On Liberty

Before buying any sunscreen, even sunscreens that claim they are reef friendly, that you’ll be using in or around salt water beaches, swimming, surfing, snorkeling or any activity in salt water, read the labels thoroughly.

We’ve compiled a list of reef safe sunscreen products and reef friendly sunblocks, sticks and sprays.

These manufacturers have all acknowledged the purpose of putting gout reef safe sunscreen products that have the proper ingredients that aren’t detrimental to our ocean environments.

Recommended Reef Safe Sunscreen Products

Venture Wipes Sun Defense Reef Safe Sunscreen Wipes

Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+

Raw Elements Face Stick Certified Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+

Green Screen Organic Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32

Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen

Kokua Sun Care Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

Two Peas Organics Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

Earth Mama Uber-Sensitive Mineral Lotion SPF 40

Badger Baby Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide SPF 30

Badger SPF 40 Unscented Sunscreen Cream

All Good Kid’s Sunscreen Butterstick SPF 50

Babo Botanicals Baby Face Mineral SPF 50

Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion

MANDA Natural Sunscreen SPF 50

Manda Organic SPF 50 Sun Paste

Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30+

All Good Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Raw Love SPF 35 All-natural Mineral Sunscreen

Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock

Olita Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

Skinnies CONQUER Sungel Sun Cream SPF 50+

Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion

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Besides buying reef safe sunscreen products, how else we can help protect our coral reefs and ocean environment?

Sunscreen and hat on beach

With a little education (you’re welcome), taking a proactive stance and exercising personal responsibility, we all can help slow the destruction of our coral reefs.

While there’s a lot of other ways to protect and sustain our ocean’s coral reefs, choosing the right reef safe sunscreen is a great start.

Pay attention to sunscreen product labels

Before buying, read the sun protection product labels. Be familiar with the list of ingredients in any UV sunblocking skin protection. Always make certain you’re buying true reef safe sunscreen products.

Go through your sunscreen stash

Stop using toxic products you may already have that contain ingredients that contribute, even minimally, to the destruction of our world’s coral reefs and ocean ecosystems.

Vote uncaring sunscreen manufacturers off the island

Hold sunscreen manufacturers accountable for ingredients they put into their sunblock products. Vote them off the island by not buying sunscreens with the dangerous bleaching chemicals to their products. 

Manage your sun exposure times

Try to avoid the direct sun during peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm to help prevent damaging UV rays to your skin, scalp and eyes.

Protect your skin using other means of sun blocking protection

Sit under a beach umbrella or cabana on the beach. Wear a wide brim sun hat and cover up using UPF clothing instead of slathering or spraying chemicals.

Get involved in federal legislation

Contact your federal representatives to support the first federal bill to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens in National Marine Sanctuaries with coral reefs!

Help educate others of the importance of using reef safe sunscreen and sunblocking products 

Spread the word by sharing this article with your friends and family who use sunscreens and sunblocks.

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Wrapping up why reef safe sunscreen is so important to our oceans and water environments

Boys wearing UPF shirts boogie boarding on beach
Photo by BlueOrangeStudio – Canva

The good news, through education and awareness, people are becoming more concerned about the detriments some household products are causing to our environment. 

And, in this case, they are engaging in support of using only reef safe sunscreen products, including ourselves. Consumers are becoming label readers. But also, they are denying such product purchases.

And finally, a lot of responsible sunscreen manufacturers are stepping up to join the initiative.

They’re making products using only reef safe sunscreen ingredients that are safer for the environment.

All of our collective efforts combined can help protect and sustain our great barrier reefs, corals and ocean life. 

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