Why Reef-Friendly?

Researchers believe that some chemicals and compounds found in many popular sunscreens may be harmful to coral reefs. When these sunscreens rinse off the bodies of swimmers, snorkelers, and divers, chemicals that are used as the active ingredients in many of these products find their way into our oceans and onto our reefs.

Studies have linked chemicals that are found in many “traditional” sunscreens to phenomena such as coral bleaching and other damage to reef ecosystems. This may occur by promoting viral infection, or by causing extreme stress to the corals, making them even more vulnerable to the effects of rising ocean temperatures.

In response, in many locations around the world it is now recommended or even required that only biodegradable reef-friendly sunscreens be used, including many eco-nature and marine parks in the Caribbean and Mexico

In Hawaii, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources is also now urging ocean users to use only reef-safe sunscreens, (see link to the DNLR website below), and a bill has been introduced in the Hawaii legislature to ban sunscreens that contain the chemical oxybenzone.

Ocean Users Urged To Use Reef Safe Sunscreens (Hawaii DNLR)

According to a bulletin issued by the National Park Service, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters the waters of our fragile reef areas annually. The bulletin encourages taking a more “reef friendly” approach to sun protection. (See link to the National Park Service website below) 

Take A More Reef-Friendly Approach To Sun Protection

"Mineral-based" sunscreens, which utilize only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as their active ingredients, are excellent alternatives to "traditional" sunscreens, and are widely believed to be safer for our reefs by avoiding the use of harsh chemicals often considered to be harmful, such as oxybenzone.

These mineral-based or "physical" sunscreens are designed to remain on top of your skin, with most using zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients to absorb, reflect, and scatter UVA and UVB rays from the sun. This is important, and is a big difference between mineral-based sunscreens and other “traditional” sunscreens you may have used before.

The use of these minerals as active ingredients means that when properly applied these sunscreens are likely to leave a whitish tint on the skin. If you have not used this type of sunscreen before, you may be expecting it to completely "disappear" like traditional sunscreens you have probably used in the past, which it may not do. In many cases, as the SPF of the sunscreen increases, the more noticeable the whitish tint may be. 

Dude This Stuff Is White! 

The very nature of the ingredients used in biodegradable mineral-based sunscreens also increases the cost of the products. Without a doubt, you can usually find “traditional sunscreens” that rely on potentially harmful chemicals for their active ingredients at a lower price. As is often the case, and is especially true in this case, “cheaper is not always better”.

When you buy reef-friendly mineral-based sunscreens, hopefully you are making a conscious and informed decision to do so, understanding that you may be paying a little more, and that the product may not transparently “rub in” like other sunscreens you may be used to. However, we believe that those tradeoffs are well worth it, considering the alternatives, and if you’ve read this far, you probably feel the same way!

Colorful Coral Reef

Sunscreens manufacturers that use minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as their active ingredients sometimes use the term "chemical free" to describe their products. This has proven to be a topic of debate and has even garnered attention in the media at times, since the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide used as the active ingredients could technically be considered to be chemicals themselves, especially when processed for use in the formulas. For this reason, some manufacturers avoid or no longer use the term "chemical free", although many do still use the term to describe their mineral-based sunscreen products.

Of course, chemicals in traditional sunscreens are by no means the only, or even biggest, threat to our coral reefs. There are many other risks to the reefs beyond sunscreen, with rising ocean water temperatures being the the most alarming. The Great Barrier Reef has recently experienced repeated episodes of devastating coral bleaching from which it will take years to recover, if it can recover at all. Therefore a daily common sense approach to conservation and promoting awareness is equally if not more important than natural biodegradable sun protection. However, using reef-friendly products is something that we can control in the immediate, and if can help make a difference, we believe that we would be remiss not to do so.

Traditional Sunscreens And Coral Bleaching

It is important to remember that no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays. Many experts agree that the best protection from the sun is to minimize exposure by staying in the shade, especially during peak hours, and wear protective clothing, such as pants, shirts with long sleeves, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. When in the sun or in the water, always use sunscreen generously and reapply it regularly, even in cloudy weather. Protective clothing designed to be worn in the water, such as rashguards, can also provide UPF 50+ sun protection.

Snorkeler With Rashguard

Finally, below are some external links to related articles and studies that you may find useful and informative:


Reefs At Risk

Ocean Users Urged To Use Reef Safe Sunscreens; Scientific Evidence Showing Chemicals Cause Damage To Coral Reefs
(State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources )  
Be sure to watch the video!


How We Are All Contributing to the Destruction of Coral Reefs: Sunscreen
(The Washington Post)


Swimmers' Sunscreen Killing Off Coral
(National Geographic News)


How Sunscreen May Be Destroying Coral Reefs


Sunscreen Pollution
(Divers Alert Network - AlertDiverOnline)


Protect Yourself, Protect The Reef!
(National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)


New Scientific Study Finds Coral Reefs Under Attack From Chemical In Sunscreen Lotions
(Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Press Release)

Sunscreen Could Be Killing The World’s Coral Reefs, Study Says
(Huffington Post)

Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections
(Environmental Health Perspectives)


Best Sunscreen: Understand Sunscreen Options
(Mayo Clinic)


kNOw HARMony™

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