The worlds coral reefs are suffering, and chemicals commonly found in sunscreen contribute to the problem. By the numbers, the problem is daunting: 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year; 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be tainting the seas; about 80 percent of corals in the Caribbean have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution, coastal development, and warming waters.
When you swim with sunscreen on, chemicals like oxybenzone can seep into the water, where they’re absorbed by corals. These substances contain nanoparticles that can disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles, ultimately leading to bleaching.
Even if you don’t swim after applying sunscreen, it can go down drains when you shower. Aerosol versions of sunscreen can spray large amounts of the product onto the sand, where it gets washed into our oceans.
This damage, along with harm from other stressors including ocean acidification, water pollution, rising sea temperatures, and coral disease, prevents corals from successfully reproducing and surviving in current marine environments.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the planet’s most spectacular underwater treasures. The reef’s colorful corals serve as a submerged garden for a marine ecosystem that draws visitors to the area from all over the world. Snorkelers and scuba divers can swim alongside some of the thousands of species of fish that make the reef their home. Lucky travelers might even catch a glimpse of the resident dugongs or sea turtles.
If you live a vegan lifestyle, you only use products that aren't tested on animals and don't have any sort of animal by-products in them, so your sunscreen has to be the same. Cruelty-free production is incredibly important, so aim for products that are locally made, chemical-free and made from naturally derived ingredients.
How does sunscreen hurt the reef?
Our 5 best natural sunscreens
Our top pick is Natio SPF50+ Sunscreen, a broad spectrum formula with up to four hours' water resistance, is made in Australia and is strictly cruelty-free. The formula is non-greasy and vegan-friendly, so you can slather it on without feeling guilty. It's also enriched with vitamin E and aloe, so it'll even help soothe your skin. Win-win!
This is a reef-friendly, broad-spectrum sunscreen, containing the active ingredient Zinc Oxide. They have also included Calendula Extract for its anti-inflammatory properties, Green Tea for its antioxidants and Rosehip Oil to help nourish your skin, along with the gorgeous calming scent of Rose Geranium. This is un-tinted and designed to leave a satin finish, ideal for applying on its own or under makeup.
Wotnot Sunscreen SPF30+
Wotnot is a natural zinc sunscreen designed for sensitive or eczema/psoriasis/rosacea-prone skin our sunscreen is packed with natural oils. It is also highly moisturising and suitable for all ages, including babies. Unfortunately, it is not vegan as one of the ingredients is beeswax. However, this is an excellent reef safe sunscreen in Australia.
This Aussie-made protectant not only works to shield your skin from harmful rays but our reefs too, with $1 from every sale donated to coral restoration projects. Zinc is blended with grapeseed, jojoba, safflower, lavender, patchouli and geranium oils as well as cucumber and carrot extracts.
Australian owned, vegan and fully reef safe this sunscreen is available through Shop Naturally. It has a smooth, soft creamy formula that is rubbed in easily and provides several hours of protection it is also not greasy and ideal for all skin types.