Oxybenzone is a genotoxicant to corals. It causes bleaching and transforms planula into a deformed, sessile condition.
If you had to summarize that statement in non-science terms this chemical sounds like death for coral. Yet chances are you rub oxybenzone all over your skin before jumping into the ocean or even walking on the beach or in the park.
Sunscreen. Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreens and even body fragrances, shampoos, conditioners and other personal-care products because this chemical protects against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. The less publicized effects of oxybenzone include its role as a pollutant in the ocean. This substance increases the rate of coral bleaching and can cause planktonic baby corals to become deformed and unable to grow. There are other side effects for fish and even humans such as allergic skin reactions or potential hormone disruption (for more info read the article listed below).
So can one person cause coral to die if they lather up before they jump in? NO, but these effects are a problem in high tourist areas. Perhaps you saw the recently viral obituary for the Great Barrier Reef that caused an international scare that this natural marvel was now dead. This publication has since been corrected from stating that the Great Barrier Reef died in the year 2016 to the accurate status of the coral reef as highly threatened or dying.
In the list of threats that coral reefs face sunscreen probably falls towards the bottom, yet whether you are kayaking, paddleboarding or showering after a hike your sunscreen washes off and could impact the environments you love to enjoy.
So how can you protect yourself from the sun and the ocean from oxybenzone? Use protective clothing or buy a rash guard! (Look under men’s and women’s clothing on the campgear.com web page) Stylish surfer look, no skin cancer, and baby corals live another day…sounds like everyone wins. Campgear.com also sells BUFFs, advertised as multifunctional headwear, this lightweight, UV protective, insect-repellant tube of stretchable material can function as a neck and faceguard, headband, or hat. Check out the How to Wear a BUFF Official Video when you shop.
Other options if you are yearning for a summer tan include ‘coral safe’ sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone. These products typically use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. Some examples of ‘coral safe’ and ‘athlete safe’ sunscreen brands include:
- Alba Botanica: Natural Mineral Protection Sunblock SPF 30 (Island Naturals, KTA, Walmart)
- All Good: Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 33 or Unscented Sunstick SPF 30 (Island Naturals)
- All Terrain: AquaSport/Terrasport/ Kidsport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 (Island Naturals)
- Aveeno: Active Naturals, Natural Protection Lotion, SPF 50 (Walmart)
Aveeno: Active Naturals, Natural Protection Baby, Lotion or Stick, SPF 50 (Walmart)
- Banana Boat: Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 (KTA, Sack N Save, Safeway, Target, Walmart)
- Banana Boat: Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 (KTA, Sack N Save, Walmart)
- Bare Republic: Natural Mineral Sunscreen Sport/Kids Spray, SPF 30 (Target)
- Bare Republic: Natural Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Sport, SPF 50 or Face, SPF 30 (Target)
- Coola Suncare: Mineral Sunscreen Unscented, Baby, SPF 50 (Island Naturals)
- Coola Suncare: Classic Sunscreen Unscented, Sport/Body/Face, SPF 30 (Island Naturals)
- CVS: Baby Pure & Gentle Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 60 (Long’s Drugs)
- Goddess Garden: Natural Sunscreen Lotion: Sport/Kids/ Baby, SPF 30 (Island Naturals)
- Goddess Garden: Natural Sunscreen Continuous Spray: Sport/ Kids, SPF 30 (Island Naturals)
- The Honest Company: Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50+ (Costco, Target)
- The Honest Company: Mineral Sunscreen Spray or Stick, SPF 30 (Costco, Target)
- MyChelle Dermaceuticals: Sun Shield Clear Stick, SPF 50 (Island Naturals)
- MyChelle Dermaceuticals: Replenishing Solar Defense, SPF 30, or Sun Shield, SPF 28 (Island Naturals)
- Neutrogena: Pure & Free Liquid Sunscreen, SPF 50+ (Long’s Drugs)
- Neutrogena: Pure & Free Baby Faces Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 45+ or Stick, SPF 60+ (Long’s Drugs, Target, Walmart)
- Promise Organic: Coconut Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30 (Long’s Drugs)
- Stream2Sea: Mineral Sunscreen for Body/Sport/Face, SPF 30 (Big Island Divers, Kona Honu Divers, Island Naturals, Kahalu’u Bay Education Center)
- ThinkSport: Safe Sunscreen SPF 50 (Target.com)
I found it interesting that mainstream sunscreen brands with product lines geared towards kids or babies would remove oxybenzone from the ingredient list. That trend alone was enough to make me think again about putting their mainstream product (with oxybenzone) on my skin.
Finally, did you know that in other countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Nigeria and India having whiter skin rather than getting a tan is highly desirable?! Many women even use lightening creams in an attempt to make their skin whiter. Despite the hot tropical climate Filipinos typically choose to wear long sleeves, pants and/or hats for the specific purpose of not “becoming dark” in the sun. And for Filipinos going for a dip, oxybenzone is a non-factor. They forego sunscreen when outside and commonly swim in their clothes!
 Downs CA, Kramarsky-Winter E, Segal R. et al. (2016) “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.” Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7