Is your sunscreen reef safe? What's in your sunscreen?


When you take a dip in the sea after slathering in sunscreen think about this. There are thousands of chemicals from personal care products that are in the world's oceans and sunscreen is a major contributor.  Sunscreen ingredients end up in the oceans and cause irreparable damage to coral reefs.

Sunscreen ingredients:

Sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate are the main culprits. They absorb the harmful UV rays and therefore are widely used in sunscreen products.  

Marine Safe in its report on measurements taken around Hawaii found levels of oxybenzone at concentrations 12 times higher and it has started impacted coral reefs in the oceans.

Summary of the science:

The effects of sunscreen UV filter oxybenzone on coral reefs is detailed in this scientific paper

The Center for Disease Control fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals have reported that close to 97% of the people tested have oxybenzone present in their urine. There are varying concentrations in the world waterways and fish population.  Here is one more paper detailing their findings.


Here are the four ingredients that are causing this problem:

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3) - Oxybenzone is found in over 3500 sunscreen products worldwide
  • Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate)
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC)
  • Butylparaben

State of Hawaii has proposed a ban on sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate

Downs, C. A., et al. “Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 20 Oct. 2015,

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