Why You Should be Traveling with Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Reef Safe Sunscreens for Tropical Destinations Girl Yellow Bikini Ocean Water

While wearing sunscreen is extremely important to protect your skin, did you know that it can cause damage to our planet’s reefs?

When sunscreen washes off of your skin and mixes with the water, it can contribute to coral bleaching and even speed up the process. While many people aren’t familiar with coral bleaching, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of,

“The Great Barrier Reef is dying.”

Well, it’s not just the Great Barrier Reef, but coral reefs around the world—places like Hawaii, Seychelles, and the Maldives—are impacted by the chemicals in some sunscreens. 

Not only do the chemicals hurt the reefs but they can also be toxic for marine life.

The culprits? Oxybenzone and octinoxate. While more research is being done, in July 2018, Hawaii passed a law prohibiting future sales of sunscreens containing benzophenone-3 (another name for oxybenzone) and octinoxate.

Because of the harm they can cause, many islanders are taking matters into their own hands and developing reef-safe sunscreens, in hopes of protecting their home.

Here are ways to help you pick reef-safe sunscreens for your next tropical vacation!

Negative Effects of Sunscreen on Our Oceans

While climate change is one of the biggest factors impacting marine life, the sunscreen we use doesn’t have to add to that!

So what exactly is coral bleaching?

When the chemicals in sunscreen get into the water, they can cause damage to the DNA in larval and adult stage coral. But what does that mean? It limits their growth and ability to develop in a healthy way…essentially coral can’t reproduce as it should.

Coral typically bleaches when the temperature of the water is above 81 degrees…

which is pretty darn warm! Yet when oxybenzone comes in contact with the water, the coral will actually start to bleach at 78 degrees.

I know this degree difference might seem minor, but with oceans heating up—this is huge! Think about when you get a fever…it’s only a few degrees higher than your normal body temp, but man oh man, can you feel it!

As coral reefs are already struggling, we don’t want to add anything else that might harm them!

Lombok, Indonesia

Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal

Your skin is your biggest organ, so you should be doing everything you can to help protect it, right?

Think about what happens when you use sunscreen: you reapply multiple times and allow it to soak into your skin. If you’re using a spray, you potentially inhale sunscreen fumes…or if you apply SPF to your lips, you could ingest a small amount.

The FDA is currently researching sunscreens on the market

The FDA is concerned that some sunscreens might include cancer-causing ingredients, be messing with hormones, and causing endocrine disruption. No thank you!

Sunscreens that also contain retinyl palmitate (aka vitamin A), which is an antioxidant that combats skin aging, may actually trigger the development of skin tumors when in the sun.

Beachy Blonde Hair

What You Can Do

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you need to stop wearing sunscreen—not at all!

First, when looking to purchase a new sunscreen, lip products, and skin lotions, steer clear of ingredients like vitamin A—aka retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinol.

Second, avoid spray sunscreen.

When you spray the sunscreen, you’re not only getting it on you but you’re also getting it all over your surroundings. You’re putting solutions into the air and all over the sand, potentially causing harm to even more critters and their habitats.

And, last but not least, wear mineral sunscreens. They are typically made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; research shows that few (if any) zinc or titanium particles actually penetrate the skin.

So, when it comes to sunscreens, mineral ones tend to be better than chemical, for both you and the environment.

Reef-Safe Sunscreens I Love!

These are some of my favorite reef-friendly, water-resistant, and biodegradable sunscreens!

Sun Bum Mineral Sun Care

Reef-safe, oxybenzone & octinoxate free

Try This

Biodegradable Mineral Sunblock by Stream2Sea

Tested and proven reef-safe, biodegradable sport sunscreen

Try This


Researching the ingredients in your sunscreen will not only help the environment, but it will also help you live your best, healthy life!

So take a peek at those ingredients and check out if the sunscreen you’re purchasing is reef-friendly, especially for your next tropical vacation! 

The Ultimate Eco-Travel Guide

If you want to ensure your lifestyle is more eco-friendly when you travel, I’ve compiled a guide on all the things you can start doing to be more “green.”

Read More

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