Coral Reef Friendly / Reef Safe Sunscreen

In Brief

Sunscreen washes off your body when swimming and enters the marine environment.

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

Badger sunscreens do not have any of these harmful ingredients and they are safe for coral reefs.

You may have read about this topic in news stories such as:

• "Most Sunscreens Can Harm Coral Reefs" - New York Times 2018

• "Is Your Sunscreen Bad for the Planet?" - Vogue 2017

• "Hawaii wants to ban chemical sunscreens to save the coral reefs" - Fox News 2017

• "How we are all contributing to the destruction of coral reefs: Sunscreen" - Washington Post 2015

• "How Sunscreen May Be Destroying Coral Reefs" - Time 2015

Some of the peer reviewed scientific studies showing how sunscreen chemicals can kill coral:

2016 February: 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.

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

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.

Badger coral reef safe sunscreen

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:

  • Any form of microplastic sphere or beads.
  • Any nanoparticles like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Benzylparaben
  • Triclosan

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 or the other ingredients listed above that are proven to harm 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 or Reef Friendly 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 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!

Are Badger's Sunscreens Reef Safe / Reef Friendly?

  • 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. 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 does not dissolve in seawater and instead becomes part of the seafloor 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 Sunscreen Reef Friendly Logo

Badger Sunscreen Products

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