What is reef safe?
Climate change, pollution, and ocean-dependent industries are slowly damaging coral reefs around the world. There’s something else — something seemingly innocent — that could be contributing to the loss of these colorful underwater colonies – your sunscreen.
Some chemicals in sunscreen have been linked to damage of coral reefs, although there’s more to the evidence than what initially meets the eye. This does not mean you should not wear sunscreen. It does mean you should be cautious about the ingredients in your sunscreen.
A reef-safe sunscreen is a sunscreen free of chemical ingredients and small particles known to damage and potentially kill coral reefs in the oceans. Those ingredients are, to date, oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.
There’s more to consider than just the ingredients in your sunscreen, though, which is where things get a bit sticky: To be truly reef-safe, the particles in sunscreen must be “non-nano.” If the particle size is below 100 nanometers, coral reefs can absorb the particles from sunscreen regardless of the ingredients.
Scientists have found that some chemicals in sunscreen contribute to coral bleaching, a process by which coral reefs expel the colorful algae that lives in the corals’ tissues. Bleaching doesn’t kill coral, but it does leave the coral at risk for infections and mortality.
There’s also some concern that one specific ingredient, octocrylene, can directly contribute to the death of coral reefs.
Before you head out on a tropical vacation this summer (following safe travel protocols as we muster through the coronavirus pandemic, of course), check to see if your sunny destination has banned sunscreens with certain chemicals.
Hawaii, for example, prohibits the sale of sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate. The law was passed in May 2018 by Hawaii legislators and signed by Gov. David Ige. While the new law doesn’t officially go into effect until Jan. 1, 2021, many retailers, resorts and parks are already encouraging visitors to choose reef-safe sunscreens, such as Hanauma Bay State Park.
In Mexico, lawmakers haven’t enacted enforceable legal bans of sunscreen, but some tourist destinations, including the Riviera Maya, encourage visitors to use biodegradable reef-safe sunscreens in place of chemical sunscreens.
The city legislature of Key West, Florida, tried to enact a sunscreen ban, but Florida lawmakers preempted the bill, saying that cities cannot enforce their own sunscreen bans due to concerns about rising skin cancer rates. The city of Key West still encourages locals and tourists to use eco-friendly sunscreens.
If your looking for reef safe sunscreen, we can hook you up! We carry Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen that is “reef safe”!