How to Choose Sunscreen That Won't Kill the Coral Reefs on a Beach Vacation

Author: Priyanka Saxena on Apr 06,2021

According to research conducted in Europe in 2008, every year about 14,000 tons of sunscreen goes into the ocean and it was found that the highest concentration was near the coral reefs, which makes sense to discuss this topic in the context of beach vacations on a traveling platform like


In an attempt to deal with the situation, Hawaii in July 2018 imposed a ban on sunscreen that contains particularly two common types of sunscreen including octinoxate & oxybenzone— which has caused the highest levels of harm to our oceans. With this, Hawaii became the first state to have taken this step. In a similar endeavor.


A lot of retailers & sellers have already stopped selling products that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate— and to label their products as “reef safe.” This step is undoubtedly one of the most important steps — that will help when you are kayaking, swimming, or surfing in the ocean with your sunscreen on. It will prevent damage to the coral reefs, and in keeping the magic of the marine life intact. 


When you pack for your Beach Vacations — you look for a sunscreen with SPF 30 to help your skin be protected from UVB and UVA rays, but do you know if that sunscreen is reef-safe or not? We have rounded up the leisure travel guides a few of the important information on reef-safe sunscreen you must pack on your next beach vacation. Here we go:


What is reef-safe sunscreen? 


How do reef-safe sunscreen help with planning beach vacations without harming the ocean? The label does not only confirm that you are going to be using a reef-safe sunscreen, there are other factors you need to understand. It does not just stop there— you have to be a little more conscious if you are an environmentally conscious traveler. Even if the sunscreen products are authorized by agencies, a large concentration of any product can keep ruining your favorite ocean. 


Other than octinoxate and oxybenzone— there are other ingredients that might be harming the ocean. Researchers are still working on this and trying to gather information on these toxic substances present. Until then travelers can take a few steps towards an endeavor to keep the oceans safe. 


Related: We Found These Eco-Friendly Travel Essentials for Solo Travelers


How to protect yourself & the ocean during your next beach vacation?


The best way that would not just protect your body but also the ocean on your next beach vacation is — covering most of your body with UPF clothing. You can also wear a normal T-shirt that has passed the CR testing to protect your skin without wearing sunscreen. However, you will still need to apply sunscreen to the exposed part of your body but that will be way lesser than what you might have required in the other case, wearing a bathing suit. In this beach vacation leisure travel guide, we want to emphasize — protection of your own body & the water body is essential. 


Researchers say that Mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — are comparatively safer for coral reefs. But most of the mineral products that have been tested so far provide UVB and UVA protection. Another approach to help yourself save yourself and the ocean on your next beach vacation is opting for an oxybenzone-free chemical sunscreen— however, this won’t provide complete protection to the coral reefs, yet they will cut short one of the chemicals from your sunscreen. 


How does sunscreen cause harm to coral reefs? 


Researchers have found that a few of the chemicals present in your sunscreen are harmful to marine life and corals. Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3) is one of the key ingredients of sunscreen, which in most cases causes abnormal deformities and damages the DNA of corals. Sunscreen that you use during your beach vacations, is mostly responsible for causing a lot of diseases to coral reefs including Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. 


Certain chemicals present in sunscreen including octinoxate and oxybenzone— are perfectly safe for humans but they can make reefs sick, ironical but true. Sick corals often transform their color to white or may turn into bleaches and gradually die. With 14,000 tons going into the ocean every year— if we would not take the required steps immediately, it might result in more and more reefs dying. Eco-friendly traveling has become important for all of us.


Related: Pledge to Support Environmentally-Friendly Travel like Greta Thunberg


How can you protect the Coral Reefs during your Next Beach Vacation?


There are thousands of other factors that are causing harm to these coral reefs and our oceans at large. In the last few years, the tourism industry has grown leaps and bounds and has been adding up to environmental hazards. In addition to the several other harmful factors including global warming and pollution, human activities are adding to coral reef destructions. If you are planning to scuba dive, swim, or swim around on your next beach vacation then you must make sure to carry along some reef-safe sunscreen. Here are certain points that will help you make sure any of your activities are not causing harm to the reefs. 


1. Choose a reef-safe sunscreen on your next beach vacation



Make sure it is free of chemicals and any such particles that are believed to harm coral reefs including octocrylene, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and other ingredients. Besides the ingredients there are other things to consider — to make sure that your sunscreen is completely safe for the coral reefs on your next beach vacation, it has to be "non-nano." Know that if the particle size in your is below 100 nanometers then it might get absorbed into the reefs and cause them damage. And, that is the reason most of the non-nano-sized mineral sunscreens are considered to be way more eco-friendly traveling.  As per the nano-titanium dioxide and nano-zinc oxide— both can harm the environment of the ocean. With this leisure travel guide, we would like to suggest, when you are shopping for your sunscreen make sure to shop for the "reef-safe" label and you should check and double-check the ingredients list. 


2. You should be using Water Resistant sunscreen



When you are using a water sunscreen on your next beach vacation, it will make sure that it stays on your skin for a longer period without getting spilled into the water. The waterproof sunscreen will not only make sure that you are enjoying the sunshine better but it will also protect the ocean waters from any harmful chemicals. Use waterproof sunscreen and make sure you are taking care of the nasty sunburns and keeping your skin from getting prematurely wrinkled. 


3. Look for Zinc in your sunscreen




Zinc is the real sun blocker and is not just sunscreen like any other sun lotion. And, that is why most of the swimmers like sunscreen and sunblock rich in zinc that also help with durability. The zinc oxide sunscreen helps by making the sun's rays get scattered which further protects your skin by prohibiting the ultraviolet radiation from getting penetrated into the skin. Sunscreen with zinc has often been called the “physical” sunscreens as they are supposed to sit at top of the skin and create a physical blockage to the damaging rays. 


4. Use Biodegradable Sunscreen



When you start shopping for your next beach vacation, make sure you have bought only biodegradable sunscreen, which is believed to break after getting into the marine environment. As we discussed at the beginning of this article, after the 2016 Hawaiian ban, it was found that the major reason for the growth of coral bleaching and the harm that is being caused to the coral reefs are certain chemicals. However, this has been a topic of discussion whether consumers should turn to the “reef-friendly” sunscreens or not. In the market, there are two types of ingredients both of which work in different ways— the physical sunscreen, which is also called inorganic or mineral, and they reflect both UVB and UVA rays. The other one is the chemical sunscreen that specifically is inclusive of avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, which is believed to reduce the ability of the UV rays to penetrate the skin. Some sunscreen is available in the market that has both of these properties. 


Related: 15 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips: Add Value to the World!


5. Recheck the Ingredients



Before you jump to any conclusion and buy sunscreen for your next beach vacation make sure you have checked and rechecked the ingredients. While as of now there aren’t any sunscreen that gives a 100% guarantee of being reef-safe, but the mineral sunscreens are considered safe and do not cause that level of damage to the corals. To check if your sunscreen is reef-safe, flip the bottle and check if it does not contain any octinoxate or oxybenzone. 


6. And, you can’t compromise on your skin health


So, you can’t even give a second thought to compromising your skin health. Make sure that the sunscreen you are buying for your next beach vacation is all ready to protect your skin. Make sure it is good enough to work better for your skin! Make sure it is at least 30 SPF and has the wording ‘broad spectrum’ (which tells about the UVA coverage). 


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