Reef Safe Sunscreens / Coral Friendly Sunscreens

In Brief

Sunscreen washes off your body when you swim and shower and enters the marine environment.

Common chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, can kill coral and damage coral reefs.

Badger's reef safe sunscreens never use any of these harmful ingredients.

Important peer reviewed papers on sunscreens and coral:

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. February 2016

Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections. Environmental Health Perspectives. Danovaro R, et al. April 2008

A brief summary of the science:

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.

The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory researches the effects of sunscreens and other personal care ingredients on coral reefs and on other ecosystems and wildlife. Their list of ingredients that they consider to be environmental pollutants includes:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Microplastic spheres or beads.
  • Nanoparticles including of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Tropical Snorkeling Coral Reef Safe Sunscreen

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 sunscreen studies should be taken seriously and if you plan to swim, scuba dive, or snorkel near coral reefs you should use a coral reef friendly or reef safe sunscreen. How can you tell if a sunscreen is safe for coral reefs?

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

  • Reef Safe Sunscreen or Reef Friendly Sunscreen claims 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 ensuring that the product will break down in the marine environment. This claim is under-regulated so you may need to contact the company to verify their claim. 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!

Does Badger make reef safe sunscreens?

  • 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, and we do not use nano sized zinc. This has been used in skin care for thousands of years and is the same ingredient used in diaper creams, calamine lotion, and toothpastes. It is a powdered mineral that does not dissolve in seawater and because our zinc oxide is has a large particle size it rapidly settles to the seafloor and becomes part of 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, good for your skin, and safe for any environment or ecosystem.
Badger Sunscreen Reef Friendly Logo

Reef Safe vs. Reef Friendly

You may have noticed both of these terms being used in sunscreen articles and by sunscreen companies, even here at Badger. While they essentially mean the same thing we see a difference. To us, ‘reef safe’ is a product safety claim that should be backed up by scientific proof that the product was tested on living coral and caused it no harm. However, there are no standardized test to prove that a sunscreen is 100% safe for coral. The best we can do is to guarantee that our sunscreens don’t contain any of the ingredients shown to harm coral, and for this we use the term ‘reef friendly’. We sometimes use both terms interchangeably on our website and in our writings because people recognize the term ‘reef safe sunscreen’ over ‘reef friendly sunscreen’ but we have chosen to only use ‘reef friendly’ on our sunscreen packaging.

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