Most sunscreens, even reef-safe sunscreens, contain chemicals that are damaging our coral reefs.
Written by Natalia Westerberg – Updated: 04/22/21
Today is Earth Day, which means it is the perfect time to pull out your sunscreen turn it over and look at its ingredients. A numerous number of those ingredients are damaging the fragile ecosystems of our coral reefs. Coral reefs are an important ecosystem in our oceans as an estimated 25 percent of all marine life calls coral reefs home. A recent study found it only takes a tiny amount of toxic sunscreen to kill coral.
That study found that it takes one drop of sunscreen in 3.9 million gallons (15 million liters) of water is all it takes to damage one reef. And in 2015, the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory surveyed Trunk Bay beach on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, where up to 5,000 people swim daily. An estimated 6,000 (plus) pounds of sunscreen was deposited on the reef annually. According to Google, there are 3,648 drops in 8 fluid ounces which mean there are 7,296 drops in a pound. And when we apply some quick math and combine both studies we find that about 65.7 million liters of water were contaminated by sunscreens that year (2015), for that beach alone.
Many chemicals make sunscreen unsafe for both your skin and the ocean: like oxybenzone/benzophenone, octinoxate, octisalate/octocrylene, homosalate, avobenzone, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, parabens, retinyl palmitate, and fragrance. Nevertheless, today we will be looking at just three of those and focusing on the environment concerns for coral reefs specifically.
This ingredient was banned in Hawaii because it has been shown to cause harm to coral. Oxybenzone can also be labeled as benzophenone-3 or BP-3 and is a commonly used ingredient in FDA-approved sunscreens. And can even be labeled as “coral reef safe.” Nonetheless, even a trace amount of oxybenzone can cause coral bleaching.
What is coral bleaching you may ask? Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel algae that live inside their tissues. Normally, coral polyps live in harmony in a type of symbiotic relationship with these algae know as endosymbiotic. This relationship is crucial to the corals health as the algae provides up to ninety percent of the coral’s energy. Bleached corals continue to live but begin to slowly starve after bleaching.
This ingredient can be labeled as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and is used to block UVB absorption. Just like with oxybenzone, octinoxate has also been banned in Hawaii for causing damage to coral reefs. And just like oxybenzone, and most other chemical used in sunscreen, it also causes coral bleaching.
Other names avobenzone can be labeled as are parsol 1789, milestab 1789, eusolex 9020, escalol 517, neo heliopan 357, and others, INCI butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane. Avobenzone is the common replacement for oxybenzone which sellers claim is reef safe. However, oceanographers have found this chemical and others like it like oxybenzone and octinoxate is also damaging marine and reef environments because they increase the rate of coral bleaching.
According to NOAA: no sunscreen has been proven to be reef-friendly. However, Blazeblok has a solution with Blazeblok’s Neck Protect. A sun shield designed to attach to a cyclist’s helmet. Designed to protect the number one place skin cancer develops. Attach it and be done NO REAPPLYING & NO HARMFUL CHEMICALS that will ruin your skin and are damaging our planet.
Work Cited: Best Natural Sunscreen for Scuba - Snorkeling - Swimming in Florida Keys, 5 Jan. 2019, floridakeystreasures.com/best-natural-sunscreen-for-scuba-snorkeling-swimming-in-florida-keys/. Cooper, C. (2018, December 13). Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs? The Ocean Foundation. https://oceanfdn.org/is-your-sunscreen-killing-coral-reefs/ Downs, C.A., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Segal, R. et al. 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 U.S. Virgin Islands. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 70, 265–288 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7 Wikipedia contributors. (2021, April 19). Coral bleaching. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_bleaching