When it comes to sun exposure, we humans walk a fine line between protecting ourselves and damaging the environment. Every year, a shocking 14,000 tons of sunscreen residue gets into the oceans.

The majority of popular sunscreen brands contain extremely harmful chemicals that cause irreversible damage to coral reefs and marine life.

Before lathering on that sunscreen on your next beach vacation, stop to ask yourself: is sunscreen toxic for our coral reefs?

Keep reading to find out the answer and if there are any safer alternatives.


Many of the world's coral reefs have been catastrophically damaged over the past few years. Roughly 50 percent of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has died since 2016. A staggering 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean are now gone.

This is in part due to the warming of coastal waters, but a huge part of it has to do with harmful chemicals washing into the ocean - Chemicals that are in our sunscreen. When coral gets exposed to too much pollution, it begins to bleach. When coral bleaches, it disturbs the ecosystem of algae that live there and that provide the reef with food.

This disruption causes ocean acidification which leads the algae to die off, and ultimately the coral becoming more vulnerable to disease and death.


There are two main categories of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreen is made from minuscule particles that work by deflecting the sun's rays. Chemical sunscreens are made from synthetic ingredients that work by absorbing UV rays before they have a chance to absorb into the skin.

Both work well to protect our skin from sun damage. The problem is, they both wash off into the water and are toxic to oceanic life.

One of the most harmful sunscreen ingredients found in many popular chemical sunscreen brands is oxybenzone.

This chemical is so toxic to coral reefs that even one drop is enough to put coral reef, fish and other marine life in danger.

So much so, that popular tourist destinations like Hawaii, Key West and Palau have banned sunscreen products that contain oxybenzone.

Sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered to be safe as long as they are non-nano in size.

Any sunscreen product that is made from particles that are smaller than 100 nanometers is dangerous to the coral reef ecosystem. For this reason, avoid aerosol sprays completely.


Many of the most popular sunscreen brands contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone or octinoxate. Or they are made from tiny particles that are easily absorbed by reefs and fish.

Luckily, there are reef-safe sunscreen products available. Look for products that do not list oxybenzone as one of their active ingredients. And ones that site a particle size that's below 100 nanometers.

Another great way to avoid damaging the ocean while keeping yourself safe from sun exposure is to stay in the shade and cover up with UV protectant clothing.


So, is applying sunscreen toxic? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The hard truth is, a wide range of species of corals are in trouble.

Luckily, you can do your part to protect our marine environments and prevent the problem from becoming worse.

Do your research and buy sunscreen that is reef-safe. That way, you're protecting your family and the ocean at the same time. To avoid sunscreen altogether, check out our collection of UV protective clothing before you head out on your next family vacation.