Why you Should be Using Reef-Safe Sunscreen

A Breakdown on the Negative Effects of Sunscreen to our Lakes, Rivers and Oceans

I scream, you scream, we all scream for sunscreen.

The sun is shining; it’s a hot summer day, the UV index is through the roof. Wearing sunscreen is extremely important to protect your skin. But did you know that certain sunscreens cause damage to our planet’s reefs and wetlands?

Scuba Diving In The Jungle Wetlands Of Finlayson Point Pronvincial Park, Temagami, Northern Ontario, Canadian Splash

Sunscreen a Problem for our Aquatic Environments

In the heat of summer, or while on vacation, you slop on the sunscreen to avoid getting burned. That in and of itself is all fine and dandy; the problem arises when we head into the water and cool off.

It is estimated that 14 000 tons of sunscreen wash off beachgoers, divers, and snorkelers every year. When sunscreen washes off our skin, the chemicals mix with water and disperses affecting everything it comes into contact with.

Many synthetic sunscreens contain oxybenzone (BP-3 & BP-2) and octinoxate, which are used to filter UV light. The problem is, these particular synthetic chemicals are toxic to our lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Several Different Bottles Of Sunscreen Laying On The Sand Of A Beach

Who is Affected by the Chemicals in Sunscreen

Many different things in aquatic environments are affected by the chemicals in sunscreen. Take a look at some of the most influenced critters:


Coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on earth. As if they don’t face enough threats from climate change, invasive species, overfishing, and land development, that we need to add sunscreen pollution to the mix.

A 2016 study showed that when the harmful chemical components of sunscreen, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, get into the ocean, they increase a coral’s susceptibility to bleaching, damage DNA, cause abnormal skeletal growth and create deformities in larval stage coral.

Certain sunscreens have proven to be such a problem for corals, that in some places, such as Hawaii, they have gone as far as banning sales and use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Bonaire Brain Coral Animal, See Scuba Diving The Dutch Caribbean


Not only are corals reacting to the problematic chemical in sunscreen, but so are fish. There has been a substantial gender shift in which male fish take on female attributes. Females have also had reproductive issues with reduced egg production and embryo hatchings.

Todi Freshwater Pufferfish In The Freshwater Aquarium In Belgium, Europe


The chemical compounds in sunscreen can affect even the smallest forms of life. Green algae can have their growth and ability to photosynthesis impaired by the presence of oxybenzone and octinoxate in the water column.


The chemicals present in sunscreen can be accumulated in the tissue of a dolphin and transferred to their young. Studies have also shown that oxybenzone can be transferred by both dolphin and human mothers to infants via breastmilk.

Beat the Sun and Protect the Environment

Your skin is important, and you SHOULD protect it. Here are a few things to consider when heading out into the sun and buying environmentally friendly sunscreen. They will help you make the smart choice for our planet’s future:

1. Cover Up and Use Sunscreen on the Exposed Areas:

Covering your skin is one of our favorite ways to protect the environment. When heading out in the sun, cover your body with a hat, sunglasses, rashguard… No chemicals at all are better than even reef-safe mineral sunscreen. If you are covering up your body, apply sunscreen only to the important and exposed areas. That way, you will minimize the amount that ends up in the sea.

Lionfish Rashguard Back Dive Buddies Shop

Cover up with this Lionfish Rashguard: Spacefish Army rashguards are great for all kinds of lifestyles. They are tight-fitting and the material is SPF +40 for the sun protection you need during all kinds of aquatic activities.

Ali In The Water Of Lake Nippissing With The Multicoloured Lionfish Rashguard From Spacefish Army, North Bay Ontario, Canada

2. Wear Mineral Sunscreen:

On the whole, mineral tends to be better than chemical sunscreen, for both you and the environment. Mineral sunscreens are typically made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as opposed to oxybenzone (BP-3 & BP-2) and octinoxate. Research shows that with this alternative product fewer particles penetrate the skin

Helpful Tip: Typically mineral sunscreens are slightly different from what you are used to and may put you off at first. They are thicker than regular sunscreen and don’t rub into your skin as easily leaving skin looking a little white. You can’t just grab a batch and smear it all over. Use small amounts at a time and if possible opt to buy the transparent gel mineral sunscreen for ease of use.

Ali In Her Scuba Diving Gear With The Stream2Sea Reef Safe Sunscreen, Northern Ontario

3. Avoid the Spray:

Spraying sunscreen is quick, but it also means you are getting it all over your surroundings. Much of what you spray ends up in the air and on the sand, which in turn is washed back into the ocean. It also means your lungs will be healthier, as aerosol sunscreens can be easily inhaled.

Ali Lounging By The Lake And Putting On Stream2Sea's Reef Safe Sunscreen, Northern Ontario, Canada

Reef-Safe Sunscreens We Love

Choosing a sunscreen free from ecosystem damaging chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate can have a positive effect on our planet. It’s worth looking beyond the price – at the formula that you are actively putting on your body.

If your having a hard time finding good, environmentally safe sunscreen, take a look below at some of our favorite reef-friendly, water-resistant and biodegradable sunscreens:

Some types of pollution are easily visible, while others are silent killers. Getting more information on the ingredients in your sunscreen will not only help the aquatic environment – but will also help you lead a healthier, more eco-conscientious life. Next time you’re at the store, take a peek to find out if you’re purchasing reef-friendly sun protection, especially for your next tropical vacation.

Do you keep our lakes, rivers, and oceans safe by using reef-safe sunscreen? If so what is your favorite brand and why?

Writers Note: A portion of this scuba diving post was sponsored by Stream2Sea as a part of our Dive Buddies 4 Life Reciprocal & Partner Program. The Stream2Sea products in this post were provided to Dive Buddies 4 Life and Travel Buddies 4 Life in exchange for promotion. All comments, tests and thoughts in relation to the product are honest and strictly that of Dive Buddies and Travel Buddies 4 Life.

Want to discover more unique scuba diving products? Browse through the Dive Buddies shop to find more photography, gear and fun ocean products.

Using Reef Safe Sunscreen Is Important For The Environment

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