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April 1, 2019Sunscreen: How can you protect yourself from UV rays without harming coral reefs?
Summer fun wouldn’t be the same without sunscreen! While we need it to protect our skin from sunburns, aging and cancer, it also pollutes the ocean and damages coral reefs. When the chemical compounds used in certain sunscreens end up in the ocean, they can have a disastrous effect on coral reefs. Want to stay out of troubled waters? Here are some tips to help you enjoy the summer sun in good conscience.

Sunscreen: How does it impact the ocean?

Sunscreen: How does it impact the ocean? If you want to protect yourself from the sun, applying sunscreen every two hours and after swimming may seem like the right thing to do. But now we know that even after a quick dip, your sunscreen ends up in the water – and it can have major consequences. A 2015 study published in the U.S. journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology estimates that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the ocean each year. Some of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen go on to damage coral reefs, which are fundamental to the marine ecosystem. It is now believed that chemical filters are to blame. According to the most recent data, they are difficult to remove from water; they contribute to pollution; they accelerate coral bleaching by slowing down the growth of developing coral and damaging the DNA of mature coral; and they act as endocrine disruptors. The Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology study also reveals that the chemicals used in most sunscreens can feminize male adult fish, causing reproductive illnesses and neurological changes.

What ingredients should you avoid?

Hawaii recently banned sunscreens containing two ingredients found to be particularly harmful to coral: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Researcher and ecotoxicologist Craig Downs discovered that nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen penetrate coral reefs each year. Oxybenzone, octinoxate and benzophenone-2 are some of the most harmful chemicals.
“Lots of things kill coral reefs but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back,” Dr. Downs stated in The Guardian.
Oxybenzone, or benzophenone-3, is a UV filter and suspected endocrine disruptor. Octinoxate, also known as Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, filters UVB rays and is another suspected endocrine disruptor. Researchers have also found that even a small amount of sunscreen containing oxybenzone can damage coral reefs. It’s toxic at 62 parts per billion, which is the equivalent of one drop in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools. According to Dr. Downs, oxybenzone also affects sea urchins and kills algae, an important source of food for sea turtles. Researchers at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) also found that benzophenone-2 (BP-2) bleaches coral, causes the premature death of developing coral and may increase the frequency of mutations in coral by causing DNA damage.

Should you stop wearing sunscreen?

Best ocean friendly sunscreen Of course not! Here are a few pointers to keep things hassle free:
  1. Read labels attentively (and avoid chemical filters like oxybenzone, octinoxate and benzophenone-2).
  2. Learn to recognize ingredients that are potential toxins and pollutants in sunscreen. Check out EWG’s Skin Deep® database to find out the risks associated with the ingredients listed on the label.
  3. Look for companies that use mineral filters like zinc oxide in their sunscreens.


There are two types of mineral filters used in sunscreens: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. At ATTITUDE, all our sunscreens use only non-nano zinc oxide. We chose not to use titanium dioxide because this physical filter is still not available in non-nano form. Non-nano means that there are no nanoparticles, which are particles so small that they can enter the body through the skin. In aerosol products, titanium dioxide can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. It’s even recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In addition, researchers have brought attention to the impact of titanium dioxide on marine wildlife. A study conducted by the University of the Balearic Islands shows that plankton is also affected. The high level of hydrogen peroxide generated when titanium dioxide comes into contact with water could halt the growth of phytoplankton, the foundation of many of the ocean’s food chains. Many studies on titanium dioxide are underway. At ATTITUDE, we err on the side of caution, avoiding any ingredients that have not been confirmed as safe.

ATTITUDE: sunscreens to minimize our impact on the ocean

Ocean lovers ATTITUDE sunscreen products are always manufactured with your health and the environment in mind. Our products:
  • Only contain a mineral filter – non-nano zinc oxide
  • Are made from natural, biodegradable ingredients with low aquatic toxicity
  • Do not contain any chemical filters
  • Carry the EWG VERIFIED™ seal, confirming that they meet the strictest health and safety standards
Protecting yourself from the sun’s rays without polluting the ocean or damaging coral reefs – that’s what having a good ATTITUDE is all about!

For more information on using sunscreen and protecting yourself from the sun safely, without harming our fishy friends, check out our how-to guide!

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Written by Team ATTITUDE