Or WhatsApp us on +971507703483
Decoding Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Your Guide to Responsible Sun Protection
As divers and ocean lovers, we're all aware of the threats our reefs face – from climate change to overfishing and pollution. However, there's a less-discussed menace: sunscreen. The Hawaiian National Park Service estimates that a staggering 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter reef areas annually resulting in coral decline - now imagine that impact worldwide! Scary right? This concern has prompted some destinations to embrace "reef-safe" sunscreens. But what does that label really mean?
"Reef-safe" or "reef-friendly" sunscreens typically exclude harmful ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-benzylidene camphor, nano-titanium dioxide, and nano-zinc oxide – common UV-blocking chemicals linked to coral bleaching. When coral bleaches, it's alive but stressed, vulnerable to disease and death. Hawaii banned sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018, followed by Key West in 2019.
However, it's essential to note that no sunscreen is entirely marine life-friendly. Yes you heard that right, even a "reef-safe" sunscreen is not really completely safe - there are still researches ongoing to determine the impacts.
The terms "reef-safe" lack standardized definitions and aren't regulated by the FDA. While oxybenzone and octinoxate are the primary focus, other ingredients, such as preservatives and fragrances, are under scrutiny. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology emphasizes the need for further research to comprehend sunscreens' full impact on coral.
So what's the right thing to do?
As a proud member of Green Fins Community, we wanted you and the divers in our community, to know how we can together take a conscious step towards protecting the reefs and marine life. Below are few tips which we curated from various sources for your ease:
- Labels can be misleading: Don't buy sunscreen just because it says 'reef-safe', 'ocean-friendly' etc. as these labels are not regulated. Please check the ingredients, if the packaging is too tiny to read use websites like https://incidecoder.com/ to decode the ingredient list.
- Avoid Harmful Ingredients: Opt for sunscreens without oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-benzylidene camphor, nano-titanium dioxide, and nano-zinc oxide.
- Choose Non-Nano Mineral-Based Formulas: Zinc oxide and titanium oxide-based sunscreens are less impactful, especially if labeled "non-nano."
- Sun Protection Clothing: Reduce sunscreen use by wearing UPF-rated clothing, imagine how much sunscreen you will save just by wearing a full sleeve UPF-rated rash guard.
- Steer Clear of Parabens: Some parabens, like butylparaben, can cause coral reef bleaching.
- Use Rub-On Lotions: Choose lotions over sprays to prevent sand contamination.
- Prioritise Water Resistance: Opt for water-resistant sunscreens for longer-lasting protection.
In the quest for reef-safe sunscreens, awareness is key. While current knowledge on what's safe is limited, but we most definitely know what should be avoided and therefore your choices matter. Let's embrace sun protection that cares for both our skin and the oceans.
Sources: Hawaiin National Park Service, Green Fins Programme info graph, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology,
Contributor: Sneha Shetty - PADI IDC Staff Instructor, Tec Trimix Instructor and PADI Swim School Program Director