Five Destinations with Bans on Sunscreens

What’s the best kind of sunscreen? The kind that doesn’t kill marine life.

About half the coral reefs in the world have been lost during my lifetime. Climate change is part of the problem, but another insidious contributor is sunscreen. 6,000 to 14,000 tons* of sunscreen washes into the oceans every year. Much of it is toxic to coral reefs and fish.

Coral reefs provide critical protection to coastal areas from storm damage by absorbing wave energy and reducing erosion. They also provide habitat for over a million plant and animal species. The economic benefit of coral reefs as source of jobs, food, medicines, and as environmental buffers, is in the billions. The loss of this fragile habitat is devastating for humans and the ecosystems we depend on. Image by joakant

Several companies offer coral-friendly alternatives. The public, however, has been slow to make the switch. To keep up the pressure and call attention to the problem, five popular vacation destinations have banned toxic sunscreen chemicals, including:

  1. Bonaire
Lac Bay, Bonaire

2. Hawaii

3. Key West, Florida

4. Palau

5. Mexico has not officially enacted a ban, but most Mexican resorts ask visitors not to use sunscreens that damage reefs.

More ocean destinations will follow suit soon. You should too. It’s easy.

The first and best option: cover up. Wear a rash guard shirt and surfing leggings.

When you want to swim without long pants or shirt, use a sunscreen that is SPF 50 or less and is not toxic to sea life.

Here are chemicals to avoid:**

  1. Oxybenzone
  2. Octinoxate
  3. Octocrylene
  4. 4-mehtylbenzylidene: banned in the U.S., but not in Canada and parts of Europe
  5. Butylparaben

Here are reef-friend sunscreen ingredients:

  1. Zinc oxide
  2. Avobenzone
  3. Mexoryl SX

These safer chemicals still cause problems in heavy concentrations, but they biodegrade and are much better that the Oxy-Octi-Octo-Buty-Methy’s listed above.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates sunscreens and provides a handy guide. I don’t tout products for pay, but for information’s sake, my favorite brand right now is Thinksport. It is not as creamy as the paraben-containing sunscreens, but it absorbs well, works great and is approved by EWG.

Bottom line: help protect coral reefs. Cover up or wear sunscreen that is not toxic to the reefs.

More Resources:




Featured image by James Thornton


  • Thanks for sharing this information. I recently read a report that they needed to do more research on sunscreens because of the toxins that are absorbed through the skin as well. I guess I am a bit unsure of the math here though. I mean even at 14000 tons as a fraction of weight, the oceans are 1 x 10^9 billion tons of water which is 1 x 10^18 tons. In the journal article linked through the Hawaiian ocean project, they are looking at concentrations that are very high in comparison…roughly a billion times higher. Even if we assume that sunscreen isn’t well mixed, this seems like something is off in terms of what other sources might be for this toxin, or that maybe this is caused by divers directly going to scuba or snorkel around corals…I don’t know. Just having trouble with the math here.


    • Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor. All coral reefs in the world combined would cover a space smaller than the state of Nevada. You don’t have to weigh the whole ocean against the amount of sunscreen in the water, just the amount of sunscreen getting to the reefs. There are a lot of us swimmers, snorkelers and divers, and we use a lot of sunscreen. It would be great if this turned out to be a false alarm. We could go back to wearing any old sunscreen. It looks like sunscreen is a culprit though.

      Yeah, lots of material out there about sunscreen and it’s affect on human skin. That’s for another day. Unless you want to do the research! 🙂


  • I have learned that the sun and I have a special relationship. I love the sun and the sun loves me too much. So I wear sun hat, a light clothing to prevent sunburns and the possibility of skin cancer.


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