Your Sunscreen Could Be Harming Our Oceans

Slathering on the SPF before hitting the beach? It may be poisoning and destroying the coral reefs

Yes, it’s a cruel irony that the product you’re applying to protect your skin is probably doing the absolute opposite to our oceans. Studies have found that the chemicals used in sunscreen are also killing coral reefs worldwide. Marine Biologist Vanessa Kuhs, who works on the Maldivian island and resort Kuramathi tells Bazaar where we’re going wrong and how we can help save our oceans.

Kuramathi, Maldives

“Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients (paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone and a camphor derivative) can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae, which live inside reef-building coral species,” Vanessa explains. “Zooxanthellae provide coral with food energy through photosynthesis and contribute to the organisms' vibrant colour. Without them, the coral bleaches, turns white and dies.”

Kuramathi, Maldives

Researchers estimate that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash-off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide, and that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.

The coral reef is a fundamental part of the food chain. Sustaining animals like small fish, which feed dolphins and other sea life, to whales from eating will destroy the ocean’s ecosystem, upon which our very own food supply depends.

Kuramathi, Maldives

So how can we prevent this? Vanessa recommends both not using any sunscreen, and simply wearing a rash vest and hat instead, or Kuramathi is one of few resorts who retail reef-friendly sunscreens from brands including Raw Elements. 

"We only use non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient in all our products," explains Raw Elements founder, Brian Guadagno. "This is the only ingredient that has been proven not to harm reefs. Our goal is to not only save the ocean, but by 2019 we aim to go completely plastic free. Currently, we offer two spf products in plastic-free, recyclable/reusable tins and our skin care products are in glass/aluminum."

With our oceans already under threat due to the masses of plastic that get washed up every day, we must address these issues and take necessary measures, whether that be through harmless sunscreen or your trusty rash vest.