How Chemical Sunscreens Damage the Coral Reefs

The Coral Reefs are Suffering

The ocean might be vast, but the coral reefs comprise nearly 25% of all ocean life. Also known as “medicine cabinets,” reefs play an important part in combating human diseases, and the organisms found in reefs contribute to medicines that are used to treat viruses (e.g. HIV) or diseases like cancer.

Over the past few years, numerous studies from

One chemical that is particularly contentious is Oxybenzone.

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Oxybenzone, is an extremely common ingredient used in chemical sunscreens. The chemical has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor in fish, which means it can cause deformation, reproduction problems and ultimately cause harm to the coral. “A 2015 study found it only takes a tiny amount of oxybenzone-containing sunscreen — the equivalent of one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools — to cause serious damage to a coral reef.” The U.S. National Park Service reports that somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reef areas around the world each year.

Beyond the reefs, sunscreens with oxybenzone are absorbed into your skin and one study, found oxybenzone in over 96% of human urine samples.

What can we do?

When purchasing sunscreen look for natural, mineral-based sunscreens, which have non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients. Avoid chemical sunscreens when possible, but especially near the reefs. Most importantly, be a safe and smart shopper. Be careful when purchasing sunscreen based on the terms “reef safe” and “reef friendly.” These terms are not regulated by law, which means companies can use them even if there are toxic ingredients to reef life.

A Leader

Hawaii is the first state to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate! The governor of Hawaii signed a ban of the sale, offer of sale, or distribution in the state. Read research from 2015 on how the toxic ingredients in sunscreen have impacted Hawaii and the Virgin Islands here.

The Pacific nation of Palau is the first country to ban sunscreen that is harmful to corals and sea life. Palau’s President said, “We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life.”

You Can Be the Change.

Sources:,income%20from%20tourism%20and%20fisheries.,non%2Dreef%20safe%20sun%20protection. science-coral-oceans-floor-explore-civilians- exploration/

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