Is Your SPF Killing the Coral? Here’s How to Choose a Reef-Safe Sunscreen


coral reefs in hawaii

When it comes to preventing sun damage (and improving your chances of aging gracefully), SPF is your BFF.  Ask any dermatologist: sunscreen is the most crucial step in your skin care routine, second only, maybe, to getting your eight glasses of water a day. However, since recent research suggests that chemical sunscreen may be destroying the marine ecosystem, our favorite skin care product now poses something of a moral dilemma: harm your skin or harm the environment.

According to a 2015 study in Hawaii, ingredients found in chemical SPF—specifically oxybenzone, which appears in over 3,500 well-known sunscreens—pose a serious threat to marine life worldwide. In lab experiments, oxybenzone was shown to deform coral in its larval stage, causing the juvenile polyps to become trapped inside their own skeletons, eventually resulting in death. Oxybenzone also damages the DNA of adult corals, impacting their ability to reproduce. What’s more, the UV-absorbing compound contributes to coral bleaching, the blight that more or less destroyed the Great Barrier Reef. Even a small drop of oxybenzone is enough to damage delicate corals—a frightening fact, considering the estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen that wind up in our oceans every year.

While these findings are concerning, there is some good news: on May 1, Hawaii lawmakers approved the world’s first ban on types of sunscreen believed to kill reefs. The bill will go into effect January 1, 2021, and will almost certainly bring widespread awareness to the plight of the coral. More good news? Not all sunscreens are created equal. By choosing the right (read: usually mineral, not chemical) sunscreen, it’s possible to protect your skin and help preserve coral reefs at the same time.

Here’s what you can do to minimize the damage to coral reefs:

Read the label:

When shopping for SPF, check the ingredients before you buy. In general, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens tend to be the most harmful. Avoid oxybenzone, octinoxate (which is even more toxic than oxybenzone), and octocrylene. For a comprehensive list of all potentially harmful ingredients, click here.

Avene's ultra-light hydrating sunscreen lotion is safe for coral reefs

Double up on your protection 

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect your skin from damage. If you plan spend a lot of time in the ocean, try rubbing SPF on your face, ears, neck, hands, and legs only.  To cover the rest of your body, pull on a long-sleeved shirt or rash guard with UV-protective fabric. Sun-smart clothes have come a long way since the scratchy, dowdy garments of 90s , too—there are some seriously cute options available nowadays. The coral will thank you!

Say “no” to nano

To complicate matters further (sorry!), not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe. When shopping for mineral SPF, make sure the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles used are “non-nano” in size. Anything smaller than 100 nanoparticles can be ingested by corals, creating oxidative stress in sunlight. This blows up the cells and causes death. The only way to know if your sunscreen is reef-safe is to read the listed ingredients, so keep your eyes peeled for the term “non-nano” on the label.

So, what’s a good reef-safe sunscreen?

Now that you’re an expert on reef-safe SPF,  you’re probably wondering: does b-glowing carry any sunscreens that fit these criteria? Enter Avène and their mineral SPFs: nano-particle, paraben, oxybenzone, and octinoxate free. Their ultra-light, coral-safe sunscreens offer powerful, SPF 50+ UVA/UVB filters and antioxidant protection, along with maximum water resistance. They’re  long-lasting, hydrating, and perfect for all skin types and toneseven the most sensitive skin.

Avene mineral sunscreen is reef-safe

Note: All Avène sunscreen is reef-safe, with one notable exception: the Hydrating Sunscreen Balm SPF 50+. This formula contains octinoxate, but doesn’t contain oxybenzone.

Discover Avène


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