How Your Sunscreen Is Affecting The Ocean’s Coral Reefs

 

Coral reefs are phenomenal ecosystems that many marvel at for their beauty. They are colorful, unique, and also vital for the survival of marine life! Coral reefs offer shelter, protection, and food for many species of animals, and currently, they are in deep danger. 


Scientists have found that certain sunscreens and personal care products are culprits in the damage of coral reefs. More specifically, the ingredient ‘oxybenzone’ is of particular concern in the overall health of these fascinating ecosystems. Oxybenzone has been shown to:


  • Increase a coral’s susceptibility to bleaching
  • Damage coral DNA which interferes with reproduction
  • Cause deformities and growth anomalies
  • Disrupt a coral’s hormonal processes for growth and reproduction

 

And an even more shocking fact? It only takes a very small amount of these chemicals to make an impact. Scientists have found that just 62 parts per trillion (equivalent to one drop of water in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools) is all it takes to affect the coral reefs.


Not only can sunscreen wash into the water from our bodies while swimming, but it can also wash off the sand at the beach. All those spray-on sunscreens that people love for their convenience? They create a chemical cloud that often misses the skin and settles on the sand. Then as the tide comes in each day and night, all those chemicals wash into the ocean. Plus, sunscreen chemicals can enter the ocean in treated wastewater after it is washed off in the shower or excreted through urine.


So, what can we do?

  • Wear UPF50+ clothing while swimming in the ocean
  • Avoid spray-on sunscreen and look for mineral-based lotion sunscreen 
  • Search for marine-safe products that are marked with the “Marine Safe” icon

When a problem seems so large, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do about it and your choices won’t make much of a difference. But we live in a time where UPF clothing and mineral-based sunscreens are becoming more and more accessible! If we all take the time to learn and educate our friends and family, we can make a difference through our small everyday actions.