By Korin Miller and Maddie Aberman
SPF 30 (at minimum). Broad-spectrum. Water-resistant. These are all words you probably know to look for when you’re shopping for sunscreens for your beach vacation. But thanks to recent studies and new legislation, there’s another necessary detail to add to your checklist: reef-safe.
A 2008 European study found that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in oceans each year. The highest concentrations were found near coral reefs that are most popular with tourists. This means the sunscreen you put on before surfing, kayaking, or swimming in the ocean can wash off and remain in the ocean, causing serious damage to coral reefs and marine life.
How exactly are sunscreens messing with the ocean?
A 2015 study in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that the popular sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone is directly linked to coral bleaching, the top cause of coral death worldwide.
Here’s the thing: Oxybenzone and octinoxate are super-common ingredients found in more than 3,500 sun protection products, according to NPR. They also pop up in many moisturizers, primers, and foundations that contain SPF. So it’s crucial to look for a reef-friendly option.
What makes a sunscreen reef-safe?
If you’re looking for a chemical sunscreen (sunscreens that sink into skin and work by absorbing UV rays and converting them to heat), any version that does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate are considered safe for ocean use.
As for mineral (aka physical) sunblocks, which are powered by the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and sit on top of your skin to deflect UV rays, look for key words like “non-nano” or “reef friendly” on the label, which means the particles aren’t small enough to be absorbed by, and harm, marine life.
Click the above link to find, “The 11 best reef-safe sunscreens.”