Sunscreen – a summer essential to protect our skin. But is it at the expense of the world’s coral reefs?
Research over the past few years has begun to highlight the impact that sunscreen is having on the ocean and its reefs. And although the exact quantity of sunscreen entering coral reef areas remains unknown, scientists estimate that it could be as much as 14,000 tonnes!!
When looking for reef-friendly sunscreens the most controversial ingredients to avoid are oxybenzone and octinozate which are found in most sunscreens despite being toxic to coral as well as other ocean life including algae and fish.
You will also hear a lot about mineral sunscreens which are considered to be less damaging than their chemical counterparts. The main difference being that mineral sunscreens create a physical layer that deflects UV rays rather than absorbing them.
These sunscreens tend to contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/ or titanium dioxide. However things start getting a bit confusing here because some studies suggest that the mineral particles must be non nano (i.e. particles must be more than 100 nanometres) since nano particles could pose a threat to coral. For the avoidance of any doubt the mineral sunscreens referenced in this guide are all non nano.
Luckily I’ve made life a little easier with a list of safe sunscreens for protecting both our skin and our coral reefs.
On my recent holiday to Grenada I was especially aware of the need to find a reef-friendly sunscreen because the coral reefs around the Caribbean are actually amongst the most threatened in the world. In fact 80% of corals here have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution, warming waters, tourism, and coastal development.
So with my mum and sister also on the case, we turned up with 4 reef-friendly sunscreens!
My favourite of the 4 in terms of application, Caudalié Milky Sun Spray is a smooth and silky formula that rubs really well into the skin and also smells great. The only disappointment is its plastic packaging which sadly lets it down.
Another easy to apply option, although a little more expensive, is the Ren Clean Screen which I loved using on my face. What’s great about this one is that the tube is made from 50% recycled packaging and the cap from 100% recycled packaging. Plus, since it only consists of one type of plastic, the packaging can be recycled again and again!
I found this one a little slippery to apply but from an environmental perspective the Green People Sun Lotion is the best sunscreen of the lot (and also the cheapest per ml). Not only is it ocean friendly, but the packaging is actually carbon-neutral and plant based since it is made from sugar cane! Plus it’s fully recyclable. Amazing right?
I bought this last year when I went sailing in Corfu and had a little left over which is why I bought it with me. Although I love its eco credentials this one comes out as a thick white cream that’s really difficult to rub in.
Of course there are other reef-friendly sunscreens on the market which I haven’t yet got round to trying. I’ve listed those with the best reviews below:
- Pai Hello Sunshine Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30 40ml £32.00
- Organii Suncream SPF 30 125ml £21.95
- Jason Mineral Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 113G £14.99
- Madara Plant Stem Cell Body Cream SPF 30 100ml £19.00
- Badger Balm Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30 87ml £13.70
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defence SPF 30 90ml £29.00
Please note that no sun cream is 100% reef-friendly but those listed here are better than their alternatives since they are free of the controversial ingredients oxybenzone and octinozate. Those that are mineral based contain non nano zinc oxide and/ or non nano titanium dioxide. Any questions on this, please let me know!