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What makes sunscreen reef-safe?

Sunscreen is an important preventive measure against skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (2020), "Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent." When spending time on the water, from boating to snorkeling to just relaxing with a book, a water-resistant sunscreen is important. However, while spending time in the water, even water-resistant sunscreen will wash off your body and into the environment, which is particularly hazardous for coral reefs.

Studies show that oxybenzone, a common active ingredient in sunscreen, can cause permanent DNA damage to coral, impacting new growth and reproduction (Downs, et al. 2015). According to Dr. Pamela Hallock, a professor of Marine Science at the University of South Florida, "Sunscreens that humans use are in the category of 'local stresses of nearly global extent,' so are in a similar category as overfishing and nutrient pollution (as cited by LoFaso 2020)."

Coral reefs play an integral role in ocean biodiversity. Coral reefs support more species per square area than any other marine environment even though they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor (NOAA 2016). According to the Coral Reef Alliance, “Coral reefs provide shelter for nearly one quarter of all known marine species. And over the last 240 million years, reefs have evolved into one of the largest and most complex ecosystems on the planet. They are home to more than 4,000 species of fish, 700 species of coral, and thousands of other species of plants and animals. Scientists estimate that, in total, more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with the coral reef ecosystem.”

Threats from ocean acidification, trawling, and pollution have already severely reduced coral reef populations. Current projections show that all corals will be threatened by 2050, with 75 percent facing high to critical threat levels (Coral Reef Alliance).

So how can we help to reduce the damage? There are many steps we can take to protect and conserve our reefs, but one of the easiest is using reef-safe sunscreen.

Experts recommend using reef-safe sunscreens with natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide (National Park Service). In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, followed by Key West, Florida (Beitsch 2019).

Deciphering all of the ingredients and determining whether a sunscreen is reef-safe takes some time, so we've done it for you! All of the sunscreens listed on VeganMed's marketplace are both animal-free (no animal-derived ingredients) AND reef-safe! Look at our selection HERE.


Need even more animal-free products?

Browse our other verified animal-free products on our online marketplace and #goanimalfree!

Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!

If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!



  • Beitsch, Rebecca. “Some Sunscreens May Kill Corals, but Should They Be Banned? Scientists Are Not so Sure.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 11 Mar. 2019,

  • Coral Reef Alliance. “Coral Polyps.” Coral Reef Alliance,

  • Downs, C. A., et al. “Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, vol. 70, no. 2, 2015, pp. 265–288., doi:10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7.

  • Gutierrez, Ben. “Headed into the Water at Kealakekua Bay? You'll Need to Wear Reef-Safe Sunscreen.” Https://, Hawaii News Now, 3 Jan. 2020,

  • LoFaso, Ashley. “Sunscreen Pollution Accelerating Demise of Coral Reefs, Experts Say.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 Feb. 2020,

  • National Park Service. Protect Yourself, Protect the Reef! Protect Yourself, Protect the Reef!, National Park Service.

  • NOAA. “Coral Reefs.” NOAA's National Ocean Service, 10 June 2016,

  • Skin Cancer Foundation. “Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, 16 Apr. 2020,

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