"Reef-friendly sunscreen" is a term used to describe sunscreens that are formulated without certain chemicals that have been found to be harmful to coral reefs and marine life. These chemicals include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been shown to cause bleaching and death in coral reefs.
Reef friendly sunscreen typically uses mineral-based active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which provide sun protection by deflecting UV rays rather than chemically absorbing them. These ingredients are considered to be harmless to marine life and coral reefs.
What is reef safe sunscreen?
The term "reef safe" has become more prevalent on sunscreen labels, mainly because sunscreen companies want to attract eco-conscience consumers. However, the term is unregulated by the FDA and shouldn't be considered definitive until the term is regulated effectively.
The simple truth is that most sunscreens marketed as “reef safe” are not at all safe for oceans, reefs, or the animals dependent on them, because their ingredients are toxic to marine biosystems. These toxic ingredients include ANY petrochemicals, along with nano-sized versions of either zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
Truly Reef Safe Sunscreen
To be truly a reef safe sunscreen, it must contain ONLY mineral active ingredients (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), and these ingredients must be NON-NANO, which means the particle size is large enough to not enter and harm marine biosystems. If a sunscreen fails to meet all these requirements, it is not reef safe.
Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen is Reef Safe
The best sunscreen active ingredient, for both human and marine biosystems, is non-nano zinc oxide, and by a wide margin.
Zinc oxide is a powdered mineral that doesn’t dissolve in seawater, and in its non-nano variety (meaning its particles are all large enough to not seep through skin pores or enter marine biosystems) it settles to the seafloor and becomes an inert part of the sediment.
In constrast, NANO zinc oxide particles (smaller than 100 nanometers) can be ingested by marine animals including coral, causing internal damage, and when washed off into ocean, they can react with UV rays to generate hydrogen peroxide which can be toxic to phytoplankton, a vital nutrient to many reef and coral species.
Many Ways to help Reefs
Using reef friendly sunscreen is one way to help protect coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, which are facing a number of threats including overfishing, pollution, and climate change. However, it's worth noting that switching to reef-friendly sunscreen alone is not enough to save coral reefs. It's important to also reduce overall use of sunscreen by staying in the shade during peak sun hours and wearing protective clothing, to reduce other sources of pollution, and to advocate for conservation efforts.
Overall, reef-friendly sunscreen is an important consideration for those who want to protect marine ecosystems, but it's just one part of a larger effort to conserve these vital and fragile habitats.
Know Your Sunscreen. Trust Your Sunscreen.
Read your sunscreen ingredients, including the “inactive” ones. Research and know each ingredient, then either decide for yourself if it’s reef safe, or better yet, ask us and we’ll give you straightforward guidance, whether it’s for our sunscreen or not. If a sunscreen’s good (or bad) for you and our marine biosystems, we’ll tell you so.
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.