Friday, May 8, 2009

Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs?

Summer is approaching quickly now and we are all starting to enjoy the outdoors far more. More hiking, gardening and for some of us surfing and snorkeling. If we are going to spend time outdoors in the sun we all know that sunscreen is a must, but a study in January 2008 suggests that sunscreen may be killing off coral in the ocean.

The study found that four common sunscreen ingredients; octinoxate, oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and the preservative butylparaben, can awaken viruses in an algae called Zooxanthellae that live inside many coral species. The sunscreen ingredients cause the viruses to replicate, eventually killing off the algae and spilling over to infect nearby coral.

The Zooxanthellae provide the coral with food through photosynthesis and also contribute to the bright and vibrant colors. Without them the coral loses its color and eventually becomes a white coral skeleton and dies.

I found out quickly that my favored sunscreen contained these four ingredients and I often find myself in the ocean and love snorkeling and viewing the corals. I searched and found very few alternatives. So although this story (about the coral) is more than a year old, I wondered what we could do about it, without an easy sunscreen alternative. Once again human consumption is causing possible harm to our planet, but this time we can't simply decide not to use sunscreen. Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers with more than 1 million people diagnosed in America each year. Protecting yourself from the sun can significantly decrease your risk of skin cancer.

Before we all give up on our ocean recreation to save the coral reefs, I did find some information in my searches.

  1. Look at the ingredients before you buy sunscreen. Look out for any of the 4 chemicals that awaken the dormant viruses: octinoxate, oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and butylparaben and do not buy these sunscreens.

  2. Natural sunscreens that have no synthetic ingredients are not known to harm the coral. They may also be better for your skin as studies have shown these synthetic nanoparticles may cause skin irritation and even illness.

  3. Look for sunscreens using natural UVA and UVB blocking zinc oxide and or titanium dioxide.

  4. Make sure your sunscreen contains both UVA and UVB protection. I won't get into the details but you need both.
I have a trip to Hawaii coming up, so I am off to find my natural sunscreen
Have a great week and Mothers Day and reduce your waste.
The GoGreenMug mothers day 20% off coupon is still available until May17. Coupon Code: grnmom2day


  1. Dudley...I found a great all natural and reef friendly sunscreen at Whole foods call Caribbean Solutions. It is all plant and mineral based, smells awesome.


  2. Thanks Kevin, I will try it out.

  3. Hi Dudley
    Wear a big hat when you surf and take only zinc ointment
    or get adark tan