Sunscreen 2019: Find the Best, Safest Products for Coral Reefs (and for Your Skin!)

Happy sunscreen applicationA smiling woman applying sunscreen
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The right sunscreen will protect your skin and the environment.

Yes, sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. But the chemicals found in most sunscreens also harm wildlife, kill coral, and may even end up in your seafood dinner. Here’s what you can do.

More than 14,000 tons of sunscreens wash off swimmers, paddlers, snorkelers, surfers and other watermen and waterwomen into the oceans each year. If you care about coral reefs, read your sunscreen’s ingredients label to ensure you’re not poisoning yourself and the environment in the quest to avoid sunburn.

Does Your Sunscreen Kill Coral?

Most of us have been educated from an early age on the dangers of sun exposure, and we cover any exposed skin with a thick layer of sunscreen before we venture out. What most of us don’t know is that when we dive in the water, the chemicals found in most sunscreens kill coral, cause deformities in fish and bioaccumulate in the environment, eventually ending up in the human food chain.

Choose Reef-Friendly Sunscreen Ingredients

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between sunburn and healthy coral reefs. There are alternatives to coral-killing sun block if you’re willing to read a label or two. Avoid Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, Parabens, Triclosan, and any nanoparticles or 'nano-sized' zinc or titanium. The only truly reef-friendly active ingredients are non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide.

Read the Label, Not the Hype

Sadly, you can't rely exclusively on manufacturer claims. Picking a sunscreen that says 'reef-safe' or 'reef-friendly' on the package isn’t good enough, as those terms aren’t regulated, according to the Surfrider Foundation. Only reading the label closely will point you in the right direction.

Reef-Safe Sunscreen Is Also Good for Your Health

Picking a reef safe sunscreen is not just good for reefs – and in some cases required by law – but it’s better for your health too. Caroline Duell, Founder and CEO of sunscreen manufacturer All Good, says, 'All chemical UV absorbers are damaging to the DNA and endocrine systems of coral. Coral are animals. Humans are animals, and studies are now linking damage seen in coral to human systems as well. Even if you’re worried about your kids’ health more than the environment, reef safe sunscreen is a must.'

Learn more about sunscreen, take the River to Reef Friendly SunScreen Pledge and then try these top-rated, reef-friendly sun protectants.

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