Reef safe and reef friendly sunscreens are trying to stop the horrible impact of oxybenzone, octinoxate, and other harsh chemicals found in more common sunscreens and help save the coral reefs and marine wildlife everywhere.
“Reef safe” or “reef friendly” sunscreens are sunscreens that do not contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the most commone UV ray-blocking chemicals that are used in sunscreens, but they are also known as two chemicals that cause coral bleaching. Those pictures you see of dead coral reefs? That’s mostly caused by coral bleaching.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate have become so common in everyday sunscreens, and when people wear sunscreens with these chemicals in our oceans, lakes, and rivers, it has an adverse effect on those environments.
For example, a marine lake in Palau, called Jellyfish Lake, is popular among tourists because it is home to thousands of a harmless species of jellyfish. You can swim with the jellyfish without protective gear, but due to the chemicals in common sunscreens, the jellyfish are actually dying at an advanced rate.
So what can you do?
For starters, you can look at the chemicals that are in your sunscreens at home. Sunscreens have an ingredient list on their back label where you can check the chemicals.
The four most common ingredients to watch out for are:
- Oxybenzone (aka Benzophenone-3, BP-3) – disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, and damages coral DNA.
- Octinoxate (aka Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) – shown to cause coral bleaching.
- Butylparaben – shown to cause coral bleaching.
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (aka 4MBC) – Sunscreen ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching. This ingredient is allowed in Europe and Canada but not in the USA or Japan.
And some other ingredients that are known to be harmful to the envrionment are:
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
Another thing that you can do is look in your stores for “reef safe” or “reef friendly” sunscreens. However, it is important that you still check ingredients, as some countries do not regulate certain phrases like “eco-friendly” and “biodegradable.” You could be buying a sunscreen that says “reef safe” or “reef friendly,” but in actuality, the company or brand is green-washing you and therefore adding to the problem.
Online is another great resource for looking for “reef safe” or “reef friendly” sunscreens.
Here are some brands that I found on Amazon, Walmart, Target, and other places that are actually “reef safe” and are worth the buy: