Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen

In Brief
The sunscreen that washes off your body when swimming may affect aquatic life including corals.
Common chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone, can bleach coral and damage coral reefs.
Badger does not use any of these harmful ingredients in our sunscreens and they are safe for coral reefs.

coral reef safe sunscreen

You may have read that common sunscreen chemicals, including oxybenzone, damage coral in news stories such as "How We are all Contributing to the Destruction of Coral Reefs: Sunscreen" Washington Post, or "Sunscreen Could Be Killing The World's Coral Reefs, Study Says" Huffington Post, or "Sunscreen Killing off Coral" National Geographic. These and all other reports of how sunscreens harm coral are based on just two peer reviewed scientific studies.

2015 October: Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Downs C.A. et al. - CLICK HERE to read an explanation of the study by it's principal author.

2008 April: Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections. Environmental Health Perspectives. Danovaro R, et al. - CLICK HERE to read the full article.

A brief summary of their findings:

Between 6000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers into coral reef environments each year. Even more sunscreen pollution can reach coastal areas via waste water discharges. Up to 10% of the world's coral reefs may be threatened by certain chemicals found in most sunscreens.

Four common sunscreen ingredients were shown to kill or bleach coral at extremely low concentrations (as low as one drop in 6.5 Olympic sized swimming pools).

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3) - Sunscreen ingredient that disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, and damages coral DNA. Oxybenzone is found in over 3500 sunscreen products worldwide.

  • Butylparaben - Preservative ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching.

  • Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) - Sunscreen ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching.

  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC) - Sunscreen ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching. Allowed in Europe and Canada, not in USA or Japan.

What can you do to help?

Global warming, pollution, and other human activities pose additional and significant threats to the survival of coral reefs. However, the results of these studies should be taken seriously and if you plan to swim, scuba dive, or snorkel in the tropical ocean near coral reefs you should use a coral reef safe sunscreen. How can you tell if a sunscreen is safe for coral reefs?

Coral Reef Safe Sunscreens
  • Look at the active and inactive ingredients on your sunscreen label. Do not use a sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or the other ingredients listed above that are proven to harm coral.

  • Reef safe claims on sunscreen labels are unregulated and therefore potentially meaningless. You really have to look at the ingredients and judge for yourself.

  • Use a water resistant sunscreen which will be more likely to stay on your skin and out of the water. Water resistant claims are regulated by the FDA. Learn more about water resistant sunscreens.

  • Use a sunscreen that has been tested biodegradable. This claim is under-regulated so you may need to contact the company to verify their claim. This ensures that the product will break down in the environment. Learn more about biodegradable sunscreens.

  • Use common sense before even reaching for a sunscreen. Cover yourself with a hat and shirt (or a rash guard in the water), and seek shade during peak sun hours.

  • Share this information with your friends!
The US National Park Service, PADI (the Professional Association of Underwater Instructors), and numerous eco-tour operators (including coral reef parks in Mexico) recommend that you avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone and use only mineral based sunscreens to help protect coral reefs.

Are Badger's Sunscreens Reef Safe and/or Reef Friendly?

There are no actual 'Reef Safe' tests, nor are there any official 'Reef Safe' certifications, for sunscreens or any other products. We believe our sunscreens do not have a negative impact on coral reefs for a few reasons:

  • Badger sunscreens do not contain any of the ingredients shown to harm coral and most are water resistant.

  • The only active ingredient in each of our sunscreens is the mineral zinc oxide (non-nano). This has been used in skin care for thousands of years and is the same ingredient used in diaper creams, calamine lotion, and toothpastes. Unlike oxybenzone and other sunscreen ingredients there is no evidence that zinc oxide harms coral. It is a powdered mineral that will not dissolve in seawater and instead will eventually settle to the seafloor, like silt, and become buried in the sediment. Read more about zinc oxide.

  • The inactive ingredients of our water resistant sunscreens (making up 77-88%) are USDA Organic plant oils, beeswax, and vitamin E. These are all biodegradable and safe for any environment or ecosystem.

Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen Products