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Reef Safe Sunscreen: What is Reef Safe Sunscreen, What’s In It & Why Use It

By now, we all know that sunscreen is one of the most important weapons in our arsenal to keep skin safe from the sun. However, you may not know that in using it, you are potentially harming one of the most valuable ecosystems on the face of the earth: The coral reefs. Scientists have discovered that some of the chemicals found in sunscreen seriously damage the health of the world’s delicate coral reefs. Fortunately, there are now reef safe sunscreen products available you can buy.

fish swimming in coral reef

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

You may come across sunscreen containers labeled “reef friendly” or “reef safe” when you are shopping, often alongside the logo of a coral colony. But what does that mean exactly?  Studies indicate that reef safe sunscreens appear to be safer for coral reefs than chemical ones.


In case you were wondering, all of the 100% mineral active ingredient sunscreens in the Project Sunscreen collection are reef safe.

What Makes a Sunscreen Reef Safe?

To help keep marine life happy and healthy, you will need to find an SPF that utilizes physical UVA and UVB filters instead of the chemical types. Physical sunscreens work as barriers to the skin against the sun as it sits on the surface.


You can find out if a product is reef safe by turning the SPF container over to the label and scanning for the active ingredients.

What Makes a Sunscreen Not Reef Safe?

Studies have linked common UV blocking ingredients to coral bleaching. Here is a list of ingredients to avoid when buying reef-safe sunscreen:


  • 3-Benzylidene
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene
  • Octocrylene
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • Oxtinoxate
  • Oxybenzone


Additionally, the ingredients homosalate and octisalate might be harmful to marine life. Other products you may want to screen for and avoid for various reasons include retinyl palmitate, formaldehyde, glycol, propylene glycol, petrolatum, petroleum, phthalate, sulfate, talc, or mineral oil.


Why Is Normal Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?

When we swim or bathe, sunscreen washes off and finds its way into our waterways. Sadly, the environmental impacts of all this normal sunscreen washing into underwater environments are severe, and researchers say it can adversely affect marine life in the following ways:


  • Green Algae: Impairs photosynthesis & healthy growth
  • Coral: Builds up in tissues. Can cause bleaching, alters & damages DNA, deforms and kills
  • Sea Urchins: Damages reproductive & immune and systems, deforms young
  • Mussels: Can cause defects in young
  • Fish: Causes reduction in fertility and reproduction. Can cause female traits in males
  • Dolphins: Can buildup in tissues and will also transfer to young

Why Should I Use Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Those with an eco-conscious mindset will find the switch to a reef safe sunscreen natural and find that it makes plenty of sense. Even if you don’t subscribe to that kind of mindset, consider this: Healthy coral reefs and marine life deliver billions of dollars in environmental and economic services in the way of coastal protection, food, tourism and more.


Furthermore, if you wonder how one small change you make can make a difference, look toward Palau, Hawaii and Key West Florida, which have all banned sun care products containing coral-bleaching ingredients just recently. Mexico also encourages visitors and locals to use ocean-friendly ingredients. The drive to ban and discourage these ingredients started with grass-roots movements and small changes from people just like you.

Other Ways to Protect Ourselves & Marine Life

Worldwide, there are approximately 6,000 tons of sunscreen that wash into coral reefs annually. Luckily, there are actions you can take to cut down on the amount that makes its way in there while still guarding your skin against sunburns and skin cancer.


  • Seek shade between 10 am & 2 pm
  • Use an Umbrella
  • Wear a sun hat
  • Use reef & ocean friendly sunscreen
  • Wear UV sunglasses
  • Put on a sun shirt
  • Wear Leggings
  • Use Ultraviolet Protection Factor sun wear

Where Can I Buy Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Project Sunscreen's line of family-friendly sunscreen lotion applies in 60 seconds with a quick and easy roll-on applicator. Our sunscreens are free of harmful chemicals and packed with clean ingredients to protect, hydrate and soothe skin of all ages, types of tones. Ocean-friendly and reef-safe, Project Sunscreen is stocked at Target, Meijer, Anthropologie.com, Amazon, and other grocery and beauty retailers.  Buy in stores (link to store locator) or online at Project Sunscreen.

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