How to Make Sure Your Sunscreen Doesn’t Harm Coral Reefs

I just spent ten glorious days in Maui and I applied sunscreen about every three seconds. As I sat on the beach with my fellow tourists, I saw many of them unknowingly spray and rub sunscreen on their skin that contain ingredients that harm coral reef. For years I was one of those people too, but thankfully awareness is growing around the health and environmental impacts of sunscreen.

First and foremost, sunscreen is one of the best defenses against skin cancer, aging and dark spots/hyper-pigmentation, so wear it proudly! Second, there are a few simple steps to choosing sunscreen that is safe for your health and the environment.

Scientific studies have found that oxybenzonebutylparabenoctinoxate and 4MBC, have been linked to killing coral reef systems. This is problematic for a few reasons: coral reefs are dying off at alarming rates due to the rising water temperatures caused from human-induced climate change. Second, many people unknowingly wear sunscreen that rinses off their bodies while snorkeling and scuba diving around coral reefs, altering the coral DNA. (It then makes you wonder what it’s doing to us…)

The same ingredients also have links to some bad health impacts for humans. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked to altering sperm in men and endometriosis in women. Parabens have been widely found in human breast tissue and are suspected to be hormone disrupting chemicals as well.

To find “reef safe” sunscreens, avoid these ingredients: 

Just this week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released their 11th annual Sun Safety Guide, which ranks the best and worst sunscreens based on their ingredients. Some of my favorite brands made the cut.

My favorite “reef safe” sunscreen brands:

Please note, the term “reef safe” isn’t regulated, I’m using it here since these companies formulate without the problematic ingredients. 

Countersun Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

This is one of the best cream, mineral-based sunscreens I’ve ever used! It rubs on nicely, has great staying power, isn’t aggressively white or greasy and is water resistant. As the name indicates, this can be used on your face and body, but I use it primarily for my body.

EWG Rank: 1

Countersun Mineral Stick SPF 30

This Protect Sun Stick SPF 30 can be used on your body and face (in fact I use this every morning on my face, under my makeup), featuring the same great formula in two different sizes. It’s also great for thicker coverage when you’re doing water sports, at the beach, hanging on the boat etc. Since this is in stick format, the product uses shea butter as a key ingredient which is drier in application (it’s also great for covering tattoos).

Best perk? This sunscreen doesn’t make me breakout!

EWG Rank: 1

Countersun Mist SPF 30

Easy to apply spray mineral sunscreen, this product uses non-aerosol technology to avoid concerns with inhalation of the product! It sprays on white so you can see where it’s applied, and then it easily rubs in.

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