Is Your Sunscreen Reef-Friendly?The bleaching and dying of coral reefs is a global crisis. Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Although they only occupy a small fraction of the ocean floor, they are home to a quarter of all marine species. If present rates of destruction are allowed to continue, much of the world's coral reefs will likely disappear over the next 30 years. In addition to global climate change and destructive fishing practices, recent studies confirm that man-made pollutants are having a significant negative impact on coral reefs. Unfortunately, one of these pollutants is sunscreen.

Several common sunscreen ingredients have been identified as toxic to coral. Below is a list of these ingredients and how each one adversely affects coral populations. At the bottom of the page, you'll find references that support the information we've provided and also links to a few studies.


Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles

These two sunscreen ingredients are minerals that “block” UV rays instead of absorbing them. Being mineral-based sounds safe enough, and generally, sunscreens with Zinc Oxide (ZnO) and Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) are considered to be reef-safe. But in recent years, many manufacturers have reduced the particle size of these minerals to create what is called NANOPARTICLES. The reason for this was understandable. Although effective UV blockers, mineral sunscreens typically leave a very visible white film on your skin when applied—not an ideal result in our appearance-conscious world. But when reduced to nanoparticles (less than 100 nanometers), sunscreens apply smoother and appear virtually transparent on the skin. Although considered safe for consumers, these nanoparticles do pose a danger to marine ecosystems.

Because of their very small size, mineral nano-particles found in many popular brands of sunscreen can be ingested by marine animals (including coral), causing internal damage to the animal. (For example, a fish breathing it in through its gills). For this reason, Coral Isles does not use nanoparticles in its mineral-based reef-friendly sunscreen.

Another potential concern about nanoparticles is that in one study, when washed off into the ocean, they can react with UV rays to generate hydrogen peroxide which can be toxic to phytoplankton—a vital nutrient to many reef species, including coral. The study is referenced below, and as you can see from the photo (right), local marine sanctuaries are aware of this issue and concerned enough to post warning signs about it.

Warning Sign

Benzophenones (BP-2 and Oxybenzone)

Benzophenones are common ingredients in personal care products. There are two derivatives of benzophenone used in sunscreen; benzophenone-2 (BP2) and benzophenone-3 (Oxybenzone).

BP-2 has been an additive in personal-care products since the 1960s as a protector against UV. Research shows that BP-2 causes coral to "bleach" and can induce mutations in coral by damaging their DNA. Currently, BP-2 is not removed from most municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

Recent studies also show that Oxybenzone damages coral DNA, causing deformities and inhibiting the coral’s ability to reproduce. It also acts as an endocrine disrupter, causing juvenile coral to encase themselves within their own skeleton, leading to their death and keeping future generations of coral from repopulating.


Like Oxybenzone, Octinoxate can be an endocrine disruptor to coral. Although Octinoxate is typically used in smaller amounts in most sunscreen products, it takes much longer to biodegrade, making it equally hazardous.


Parabens are a common preservative found in about 85% of personal care products—including many brands of sunscreen. Recent studies have found parabens in the tissues of animals from even remote marine sites, indicating that some parabens, like butylparaben, are ubiquitous in the environment. Once thought to be perfectly safe, new research has shown that parabens display endocrine-disrupting activity in tests performed both in the laboratory and in nature.


Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide—

Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles Toxic to Phytoplankton in Sunlight
Sunscreens as a Source of Hydrogen Peroxide Production in Coastal Waters
NOTE: Copyright law prohibits us posting the full study online, but individuals may purchase it in PDF format at the same URL.

BP-2 & Oxybenzone—

Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone... and its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sunscreen Chemical Threatens Coral Reefs (BP-2 Study)
Sunscreen Chemical in Soaps, Cosmetics and Body Fragrances Threaten Coral Reefs

Octinoxate and Butylparaben—

Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections, 2008.  

Zinc Oxide Warning

Sunscreen Pollution—Implications and Solutions

An article by C.A. Downs, PhD

Media Press Kit

This document addresses broadly the plight of coral, information about our company, the position of the scientific community and how our product helps solve the environmental dilemma facing coral reefs.

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