Does sunscreen kill coral reefs?

Saving Coral Reefs – its easy to do your part

 Unlike any other time in history, coral reefs are bleaching at an unprecedented rate. Bleaching means that the coral has expelled algae from itself and essentially dies. One report notes that 93 percent of the world’s largest coral reef, The Great Barrier Reef, has been damaged by bleaching in some form. Scientists point to global warming as the likely culprit for this insane amount of dead and dying coral. But unfortunately, a 2005 study revealed that your sunscreen only makes the problem worse!

This study found that the chemical oxybenzone in sunscreen damages new coral. The chemical disrupts skeletal endocrine function, impairs DNA formation and promotes a coral virus that causes the coral to become sick and die, which exacerbates bleaching.

Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers into coral reef environments each year. Even more sunscreen pollution can reach coastal areas via waste water discharges. Up to 10% of the world’s coral reefs may be threatened by certain chemicals found in most sunscreens.


Coral reefs make up only 0.1 percent of the ocean floor but support 25 percent of all marine species. In addition to supporting marine species, coral reefs support land communities in several ways:

  • Food Source:Coral reefs provide a habitat for fish which is a source of food and income for locals and the world.
  • Protect the Environment:Reefs act as environment protectors by absorbing additional carbon in the water, known as “carbon sinks.”
  • Aesthetics: Coral reefs offer natural beauty to the landscape unmatched elsewhere in nature.
  • Tourism and Hospitality Industry:Reefs attract tourists from around the world which create massive revenue in the hospitality and tourism industry.

Despite these grim statistics and information, you shouldn’t avoid the use of sunscreen. Your health is important. And there several ways you can diminish the impact of your sunscreen on coral reefs and your own health.

Read the Label

While no sunscreen is 100 percent “reef-friendly,” you can purchase products with less harmful chemicals such as Badgerbalm or Stream2Sea. For instance, sunscreens with titanium oxide and zinc oxide are safer for reefs than products with oxybenzone, but these chemicals aren’t perfect either.

For even more reef-friendly products, check out lotions that use non-nano titanium oxide coated in aluminum. These non-nano particles don’t enter the coral like the others do, and are much safer for coral health.

Better yet, make your own homemade sunscreen!.

 Simpler is Better

When you read the label simpler is better. If your lotion contains a list of chemicals that you can’t pronounce, then run in the other direction. Pick products that have short lists and are mineral based.

An Alternative to Sunscreen

Also, an alternative to sunscreen is wearing more clothing. Wear a swimsuit that covers more of your body and a hat and sunglasses to cover your head, face, eyes and ears. When you take these extra measures you immediately and easily reduce the total amount of sunscreen entering the water.

Coral bleaching is a major issue for our times. Saving the reefs goes far beyond which and how much sunscreen you wear. Its a small step in the right direction and you can know you’ve at least done something to help the health of our coral reefs.