Summer is upon us, and with it comes the need to slather on the sunscreen when heading outside. Did you know that many sunscreens are made with UV-blocking ingredients that protect our skin but can damage coral reefs? One such ingredient, Oxybenzone, has been found to cause “endocrine disruption, DNA damage and death of coral”. In addition, oxybenzone can cause coral to expel the beneficial organisms that give them color, leading to coral bleaching (Time Magazine, 2015). This led Hawaii to institute a bill prohibiting the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens with chemicals contributing to coral reef destruction, including oxybenzone and octinoxate.
While not conclusive, some studies have found that chemicals such as oxybenzone may mimic hormones in humans. Due to the potential risk of hormone disruption, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding sunscreens with oxybenzone.
To protect your skin and coral reefs, carefully select your sunscreen and cover up with sun protective gear such as long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses. When looking for sunscreen at the store, consider looking for those with natural mineral ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Acoording to the National Park Service, titanium oxide and zinc oxide have not been found to be harmful to corals. Zinc oxide provides sun protection by sitting on top of the skin, creating a barrier from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
Protect Yourself, Protect the Reef!, National Park Service
How Sunscreen May Be Destroying Coral Reefs, Time Magazine