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Reef safe sunscreens

by Behan Gifford 5 Sep 16:01 UTC

We protect our bodies from the sun with sunscreen. We also need to protect reefs by making our choice of sunscreen carefully!

Two key facts to know:

  • Chemicals which are toxic to marine life are present in 75% of sunscreens (Source: Environmental Working Group)
  • The term "reef safe" is not regulated: don't trust labelling, only ingredient lists (learn more here) How does a responsible boater figure out what to do? One shortcut is to focus on sunscreens that offer mineral protection. If the active ingredients are minerals - zinc or titanium dioxide - they're less likely to contain problematic ingredients. Bonus: because these are physical barriers, they work immediately upon application - no waiting period. It's still important to make the effort to read the ingredients: since any brand can slap "Reef Safe" or "Reef Friendly" on the label, regardless of contents, it's essential to be an informed consumer.
Here's an alphabetical list of ingredients that are banned in Hawaii and/or Palau, for their toxicity to reefs:
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Benzylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Methylparaben
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene*
  • Oxybenzone*
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Propylparaben
  • Triclosan
*These two are particularly common active ingredients.

A word of warning: unless you bring a magnifying glass to the store, you might find that shopping is easier to do online! Our family of five can go through a lot of sunscreen, so we're always watching expenses. The safest sunscreens are often costly, but it's possible to find good values too. Since what's bad for reefs may also not be very good for your body, consider that a reset on an appropriate price could be an outcome.

Resources to learn more:


This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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