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The Best Environmental Sunscreen Choices: Save Coral Reefs and Your Skin

Updated on May 22, 2013
Coral reef photo by Mikhail Rogov via Wikimedia Commons
Coral reef photo by Mikhail Rogov via Wikimedia Commons

Soleo Organics Natural Sunscreen

Caribbean Solutions SolGuard Environmental Sunscreens

The Connection Between Sunscreen and Coral Reefs

Every summer, millions of people from around the globe put on sunscreen before heading to their favorite beaches. The lotions and sprays we apply say they’ll protect us from wrinkles, skin cancer, and other dangers from overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. But these same products may be killing our coral reefs - and not really protecting us from the dangers they claim to abate.

A 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives journal showed that common ingredients in sunscreen can kill coral reefs within a matter of days. The ingredients cause a reaction in an algae that lives within the reefs and is necessary to their survival. When exposed to the sunscreen chemicals, a dormant virus within the algae replicates until the algae explodes, spilling viruses into the water. The reaction can cause coral reefs to bleach and die within four days.

The report says 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs may be at risk from the 4000 to 6000 metric tons of sunscreen that wash into our oceans every year.

Some popular vacation destinations have already taken action to protect their reefs. In Mexico, a few national marine parks, such as Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, no longer allow synthetic sunscreens. Instead, visitors must use biodegradable sunscreens that don’t contain coral-bleaching ingredients.

Environmental sunscreens are readily available in the United States, but not enough people know about the connection between coral reef bleaching and chemical sunscreen. The most popular brands of sunscreen all contain chemicals that can kill ocean corals. And they may also be dangerous to our health. Currently, the FDA has no regulations on sunscreen.

In fact, many sunscreens have ingredients that not only won’t stop skin cancer, but the ingredients themselves may even cause skin cancer. The FDA is currently investigating whether a form of vitamin A known as retinyl palmitate may increase the risk of dangerous skin cancers when applied to skin and exposed to the sun. Retinyl palmitate is found in 41 percent of sunscreens.

So what should you do if you want to protect yourself and the environment? The best way to protect yourself from the sun’s UV radiation sun is to stay out of the midday sun, wear clothes that block UV rays, and use a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, according to the National Cancer Institute. But which sunscreen?

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that publishes an annual sunscreen guide that can help you decide. The 2010 guide rates the dangers of more than 1400 products designed to protect you from sun exposure. The report recommends a mere 8% of all the products tested, and those that did earn their top scores – such as Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen SPF30+, California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance SPF 30+ and Caribbean Solutions Natural/Biodegradable SolGuard SPF 25 - are biodegradable products that are good for both you and our ocean’s coral reefs.

So before you hit the beach this summer, do your body and the world’s coral reefs a favor and check the ingredients in your sunscreen.

Our Disappearing Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs


Would You Change Your Sunscreen to Protect Ocean Corals?

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    • kislany profile image

      kislany 4 years ago from Cyprus

      Very interesting, I wouldn't have ever thought of this connection, thanks to bringing it to our attention.

    • fanfreluche profile image

      fanfreluche 4 years ago from France (but Canadian at heart)

      Thank you! This is another important issue that seems to go pretty much ignored. especially the part about many of these so call sun protection that are causing both cancer and dead of our coral reefs.

      Our family use the brand Evoa (available in Europe, not sure about North America tho).

    • Red Rose 23 profile image

      Red Rose 23 6 years ago from The Rose Feilds

      I like your story; i would have never thought....

    • environment911 profile image

      environment911 7 years ago

      Wow, never would have made that connection. Great eye opening article.