What Makes Sunscreens Reef-Safe? How To Find The Most Ocean-Friendly SPF?

Is your sunscreen a threat to coral reefs?😱

Explore in this Article

  1. What is wrong with our sunscreens?
  2. What happens when microplastics and chemicals get washed into the oceans?
  3. Why do manufacturers add microplastics and chemicals to sunscreens?
  4. What is ocean-friendly sunscreen?
  5. What else can we do to save our oceans?

A beach day sounds great! And we’re all ready to spend sunny afternoons chilling outdoors. While we want one hell of a tan, what we absolutely don’t want is sunburn.

And the only thing (or not!) that we all can rely on (and never skip) is a really good ocean-friendly sunscreen. Well, if you’re wondering how sunscreen can be bad for the ocean, this article right has all the answers.

What is wrong with our sunscreens?

Need for ocean-friendly sunscreen -Why our  sunscreens are not ocean-friendly
kosmos111 / Getty Images Pro / Canva Pro

Or should we ask, what is in our sunscreen, that makes it not-so-ocean-friendly?

The answer to that question is microplastics and chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. And no, we’re not even considering the packaging here.

Now you must be wondering – how can someone add plastics to a sunscreen? It turns out one bottle of sunscreen can contain up to 100 tonnes of intentionally added plastic particles. Shocking, isn’t it? 😱

According to Beat The Microbead, almost 83% of sun care products have some kind of microplastics in them. Some familiar names of microplastics that you can easily spot as ingredients in your sunscreen are listed below.

All you need to do is read the label!

  • Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer
  • Acrylates/C12-22 Alkyl Methacrylate Copolymer
  • Carbomer
  • Dimethicone
  • Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer
  • Triacontanyl PVP
  • VP/Eicosene Copolymer
  • VP/Hexadecene Copolymer

These ingredients are generally used as thickening agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and softening agents, giving your (not so reef-safe) sunscreen the much-needed supple and skin-loving texture. But, they are absolutely no good for the coral reefs in the oceans.

Let’s learn why!

What happens when microplastics and chemicals get washed into the oceans?

Need for ocean-friendly - Sunscreen killing the coral reefs
Mihtiander / Getty Images / Canva Pro

‘Microplastics’ are particulates made of plastic material less than 5 mm in size. So basically, you can’t even see them. But they are usually found in soil, ocean, etc. So if you wonder what’s the big deal, let us give you an idea.

Whenever you apply sunscreen and swim in the sea or any water bodies, the microplastics in them get washed off. Small fish in these water bodies mistakenly consider them as food. These small fish are the food of bigger fish. And so on, so forth.

But guys, do you realize something? So many of us also eat fish! A study mentions that we (humans) ingest tiny amounts of plastics every day. And we don’t even know its consequences in the long run.

Even if you don’t go for a swim but just take a shower, one way or the other, your sunscreen reaches the oceans. This is because most water treatment plants are not equipped to remove microplastics containing chemicals from waste water.

Moreover, your chemical sunscreen’s harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, and octinoxate have nanoparticles. Mineral sunscreens (other than the one’s that say non-nano or micro-sized) also have nano particles which leads to imbalance in the ocean eco-system.

These particles get absorbed by the coral reefs in the oceans and decrease their defense against bleaching, damaging their DNA, and growth cycles. In other words, it is harming the entire ocean environment.

Why do manufacturers add microplastics and chemicals to sunscreens?

Need for ocean-friendly sunscreen Why are micro-plastics added to sunscreen
AnnKozar / Getty Images / Canva Pro

Microplastics are used in a wide variety of cosmetics and personal care products. They act as a bulking agent or for controlling the viscosity of the product. They also give a waterproof property to sunscreens. 

According to Ruth Morgan-Evans, ‘Liquid plastics are commonly used to make products more “spreadable” and are found in everything from face cream and sunscreen to shampoo and shower gels.’ 

Hasn’t the government done something? So back in 2015, the United States prohibited the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. However, this act is only limited to ‘rinse-off’ products.  

So basically, the manufacturers can’t use microbeads in products that can be rinsed off like shampoo, scrub, etc. But they can be used in products left on the skin, like glitter and sunscreen.

What is ocean-friendly sunscreen?

If you are thinking no sunscreen equals no impact, ’cause you barely spend time in the sun. Here’s something you should know – Wearing sunscreen is a must, be it indoors or outdoors.

This article will help you understand why – What’s The Deal With Sunscreen? How To Find A Good Reef-Safe Option?

Instead, it’s all about choosing a good ocean-friendly (or reef-safe) sunscreen. You can easily find safe formulations in the form of mineral sunscreens. They are available in various forms including cream sunscreen, lotion, gel, spray, and even stick sunscreen.

Reef-safe sunscreens are free of harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, nano-titaniumoxide and micro-plastics that harm the ocean environment. You can check for reef-safe certification before buying sunscreen.

Some of our favorite reef-safe sunscreen options include Raw Elements’ Face + Body Tin SPF 30, Coola’s Dew Good Illuminating Serum Sunscreen SPF 30, and EiR NYC’s Surf Mud.

What else can we do to save our oceans?

What else can we do other than switching to ocean-friendly sunscreen
Amriphoto / Getty Images Signature / Canva Pro

We have already talked above about the ingredients (microplastics & chemicals) we need to avoid in sunscreens. In addition, we’ve got a few more tips that can be good reef relief.

1. Always check for what’s inside

Make it a habit to read the label before you make a purchase. Most websites clearly state what goes into making their products. Skip the sunscreen with microplastics and chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, as they definitely don’t fall in the category of ocean-friendly sunscreen. Also, skip the spray bottles as they fall on the sand and eventually get washed up in the oceans.

2. Check these lists for ocean-friendly sunscreen

Various lists of eco-friendly sunscreens are readily available online. You can check reliable sources like the Haereticus Environmental Lab and the Environmental Working Group. The Haereticus Environmental Lab publishes a list of reef-safe sunscreens every year, while the EWG rates various products with SPF based on their impact on the environment.

3. UV resistant outfits to the rescue

You can easily include SPF in your outfits. Wondering how? It’s super simple. Just opt for naturally UV-resistant fabrics like organic hemp. This will help reduce your sunscreen use to the minimum. Plus, these clothes will last longer than your eco-friendly sunscreen bottle. So, a win-win for everyone!

We’ve got some amazing recommendations for hemp clothing brands with a great collection for your beach look. Plus, they are UV resistant too! So, don’t forget to check them out.

4. Do your research

Besides researching the products you are using, you can also check out resorts that provide you with reef-safe sunscreens. Yes, it’s true. For example, the resort chain in Hawaii called Aqua-Aston offers free eco-friendly sunscreen to their guests. Now isn’t that great!

Summing it all up

The next time you are shopping for sunscreen, make sure to look at the sunscreen ingredients. Always check whether they are reef-safe sunscreens or not. By doing this, you are saving the marine ecosystems for the future.

We hope you love the products we recommend! All products featured on GoodGuilt are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn a commission on the sale. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication.

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