People like to cruise to or vacation in tropical places. Of course some people live there too. Tropical waters are often home to coral reefs. People love to swim, snorkel, and dive in these waters, and to see the coral reefs and the fish that live there. They also want to protect themselves from sunburn.
Coral reefs are where the planet’s food chain begins. They are dying off in alarming numbers and in trouble from a number of things. Pollution, over-harvesting of fish that eat the algae off of them or loss of other herbivores like sea urchins, increase of predators or non-native invasive species, destructive fishing practices, hurricanes, fertilizer runoff that feeds algae, plastic and stray fish nets, human activity that increases sedimentation and removes the mangroves and grasses that filter it, and increasing water temperatures and lower PH levels in the oceans all either cause coral damage or contribute to its inability to recover from natural damage.
One thing coral doesn’t need is for those who come to enjoy it further stressing it from the chemicals and oil leeching off of people wearing ordinary sunscreen. Chemicals used in ordinary sunscreens can damage coral DNA, disrupt their reproduction, and cause bleaching. The equivalent of one drop of chemical based sunscreen in an Olympic sized swimming pool damages coral. The accumulation of oil from these sunscreens on a reef can contribute to suffocation of the coral as well. Imagine how much damage one group of tourists near a coral patch can do, let alone the accumulation of a year’s worth of tourists, which amounts to hundreds of tons of chemicals and oils from sunscreen washed off into the world’s oceans.
There is something each individual person can do. When you’re out of the water you can use more physical barriers so less sunscreen is needed. Seek shade. Wear hats, sunglasses and cover-ups over the swimsuit. Hats and sunglasses are especially important because besides causing sunburn UV can damage your eyes. Ears and noses are the most common places people get skin cancer. A hat with a wide brim helps all three.
Look for biodegradable natural sunscreens that are safe for the environment. As a bonus some of these sunscreens actually protect you better from the sun’s harmful cancer causing UV rays than a chemical sunblock as well as staying on longer. According to the dermatologist who removed a bit of skin cancer from my ear, it is not the SPF number that determines how well a sunscreen protects you from cancer, but the active ingredients. For the best skin cancer protection you want zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – which just happen to be the active ingredients of many mineral based sunscreens. Just make sure the product you pick says it is biodegradable or reef safe because if it does not the inactive ingredients could be harmful even if the active ingredients are not.
Coral safe sunscreens aren’t usually included in the collection of sun protection products in ordinary stores. I’ve found them readily available online and also a selection of them in a local store that sells herbal remedies and natural products.
I’ve tried 4 different ones. I found Goddess Garden and Alba Botanica at the local herbal remedies store, but they are also available online. I ordered Coral Safe and Coral Safe Face Stick online. I did not like the face stick, but any of the other 3 work fine on the face as well as the body. Goddess Garden makes one just for faces, but their facial one had just one of the minerals my dermatologist recommended and not both so I didn’t buy it.
The Goddess Garden and Coral Safe are harder to rub in than ordinary sunscreen, but they stay on longer in the water. Alba Botanica said very emollient mineral sunscreen on the tube, and it goes on about the same as regular sunscreen, but still stays on better in the water. The Goddess Garden has a flesh color tint to it that can rub off on white clothes so I prefer the Coral Safe or the Alba Botanica. The Alba Botanica particularly since it is the easiest to rub in thoroughly. At least the one in the green tube is. We tried a sport and a kids one in blue tubes and neither of those rubbed in with quite the ease of the one I had originally. Both Coral Safe and Alba Botanica say they are water resistant 80 minutes, and Goddes Garden says to reapply after 40 minutes in the water.
I tried another brand since initially writing this review. Deter rubs in the easiest of all. It hasn’t undergone the testing to be given a rating on the time it lasts in the water so the package just says to reapply after swimming. In our experience it lasted just as long as those with the 80 minute rating and worked as well if not better for preventing sunburn.
Click here for a review of Deter Natural Mineral Sunscreen.
There are lots of other brands out there, just find one you like that is biodegradable and do your part to save what’s left of the world’s disappearing coral reefs. At about $6 – $20 for a good sized tube or bottle they are competitively priced with chemical sunscreens and a bargain over the price of mineral sunscreen from the dermatologist’s office where a very tiny tube costs $40.
I tried once to find out which ingredients should be avoided in sunscreens and it was so confusing. Especially because some ingredients are supposedly harmful to people and then there are other ingredients and they say are harmful to ocean life but it didn’t seem like everyone agreed as to which ingredients are bad! I also like the convenience of the travel packs (one time use) sunscreens which I have only found in one brand.
If the package is not marked as either biodegradable or reef safe then it’s not.
I have always liked coral but never thought about sun screen being a problem for reefs. I guess it’s a good thing I often wear a full wet suit both for both diving and snorkeling because it does a better job then sun screen. Then I just have to worry about the hands, face and neck other then that I’m covered even if I spend all day snorkeling.
The wet suit will definitely protect both you and the reef better than any sunscreen and for a longer time. You still need the reef safe sunscreen for the exposed areas though, and once you get out of the water and take the wetsuit off you’d need something everywhere else.
Interesting point… I hadn’t ever thought of this potentially reef damaging connection ♥ ❤
Most people have no idea, which is why I’m trying to get the word out.