As I was beginning to pack for an upcoming beach vacation, I realized we were completely out of a vital supply -- sunscreen! I drove to the local drugstore for a quick in-and-out shopping trip, but when I found the aisle of sunscreen products, I was paralyzed with indecision.
Having read so much about the harmful chemicals in sunscreens, I found myself stumbling over ingredient labels, unable to identify the safe vs. harmful contents. And then I read a label that had my stomach churning. In small print at the top of the bottle, the words "REEF SAFE" made me pause. If sunscreen is safe for us, shouldn't it be safe for our oceans too?
Empty-handed, I left the store to do some research. I learned that in 2018, Hawaii passed a legislative bill calling for the ban of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. Why would a government care what's in our sunscreen? It turns out Hawaii -- with 750 miles of coastline -- had found that there's a direct relationship between the harmful chemicals in our sunscreen and the destruction of our precious coral reefs.
Multiple studies have found oxybenzone and octinoxate are responsible for bleaching coral reefs and causing stress on the entire ecosystem. Another chemical, titanium dioxide, does not biodegrade, and when mixed with warm seawater, it can form hydrogen peroxide, which is harmful to aquatic life.
Reef-safe sunscreen brands
There are some brands working to provide quality products that are safe for human use AND for our reefs -- brands I can feel good about my family using. Seven of those brands are:
Tourists spend billions of dollars to snorkel around coral reefs each year, but these earthly wonders are more than just a pretty photo-op. Coral reefs protect coastlines, shelter marine organisms, and provide nutrients to the food cycle.
Now that I understand the issue better, I feel better prepared for our beach trip. I'm glad we can do a small part to protect our aquatic ecosystem by opting for reef-safe sunscreen!