By: Autumn Blum

Hundreds of thousands of divers, snorkelers, fishers and water-lovers visit coastal reefs each year, all with the potential to directly impact our reefs with their personal care and sunscreen choices.

A study published by the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal in 2008 showed that common sunscreen ingredients promote viral infections in coral, and estimated that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are directly threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.
Currently, there are no certifications or laboratory standards that define ‘coral-reef safe” for sunscreens or personal care products. For the long-term protection of the waters we love, it’s critical that consumers and industry professionals alike understand the issues.

If your sunscreens contain oxybenzone and parabens, they are part of the problem.

Recent research published in the Journal of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology expanded the topic and showed that tiny concentration of these ingredients were damaging at concentrations as low as 62 parts per trillion. Oxybenzone is a commonly used ingredient in suncreen, including some that are labeled as biodegradable and ‘coral reef safe.’

“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral-reef conservation is a critical issue,” said Dr. Craig Downs, author of the study. Chemical-based sunscreens usually contain a combination of two or more active ingredients, some of which have been shown to bioaccumulate in the body and be hazardous to the aquatic environment.

Even switching to mineral sunscreens may not make a difference. Nano particles, for instance, also bioaccumates in aquatic species. ClearZinc®, although naturally compliant, has a toxic coating and is reported on it’s Material Safety Data Sheet to be highly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

My sunscreen is a drop in the bucket. It can’t possibly make a difference, can it?

“Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers,” Dr. Downs adds. Not to minimize the other very real threats like coastal pollution, climate change and overfishing, but the informed consumer can no longer believe they cannot make a difference.

Conscious consumers should avoid bringing products containing ingredients that are known to damage marine ecosystems into our waters. We need to look beyond the front of the package and review the active ingredients. Look for mineral ingredients that are nano-free, and avoid terminology like ‘goes on clear.’ Use UPF clothing and hats to reduce UV exposure and minimize sunscreen usage. When protecting exposed skin, chose mineral sunscreens and learn how to apply them properly — then feel good knowing that you are using products that are safe for you and safe for the environment.

We need to protect and preserve our coral reefs – Together, we can do better!

Autumn Blum is an award-winning cosmetic chemist, avid diver and the founder of Stream2Sea, a company setting a new standard for EcoConscious sunscreen and skincare. Friend us on Facebook, call (866) 960-9513 or email us for a biodegradable “Ingredients to Avoid Card” that highlights the worst offenders in an easy-to-use reference sheet at