Posted by: ecodestination | January 17, 2009

What sunscreen is doing to us and our planet

I find this issue fascinating, so I wanted to delve into it deeper. Here we go –


Scientific studies ascertained a relationship between the approximately 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen melting off swimmers’ skins and the quickly increasing decline in corals. It turns out that four common sunscreen ingredients (octinoxate, oxybenzone 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, and the preservative butylparaben) activate dormant viruses in corals, which go on to destroy algae—what corals feed on, and without which corals turn white and die.

About 60% of reefs around the world are currently in danger of dying due to global warming, excess UV radiation, and human activity—whether because anchors and boats tear through them, we pollute them with our garbage, or we drown them in our skincare products.

According to the European Commission, the chemicals in sunscreen and other skincare products are so harmful that areas such as marine eco-parks in Mexico straight-out ban them. These chemicals “can accumulate in aquatic animals, have an estrogen-like effect and biodegrade into toxic by-products.”

When they added low quantities of sunscreen to water around coral reefs, they found that “large amounts of coral mucous … was (sic) released within 18-48 hours. Within 96 hours, complete bleaching of corals had occurred.” Previously dormant viruses residing within the corals came alive and triggered widespread infections, effects also caused by pesticides and other pollutants.It only takes 20 minutes in the water for 25% of the harmful ingredients in your sunscreen to be released into the water.


All the way back in 2006, the University of Applied Sciences in Basil, Switzerland, found endocrine disruptors (UV filters) in fish—male fish with not only sperm, but also female eggs. Read more here.


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted research on 1,031 common brands of sunscreen last year. They found that:

  • 4 out of 5 do not offer adequate protection from the sun’s harmful rays
  • many include ingredients that may be unsafe
  • best-selling sunscreens (e.g. Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Neutrogena) proved to be the worst offenders. Here is the best and worst list: Find your sunscreen.
  • many sunscreens only protect against UVB radiations (which cause sunburns), and not UVA radiations (which cause skin damage, aging, immune system problems, and skin cancer)
  • 46% of sunscreens contain ingredients that break down under UV rays within minutes or hours, letting UV rays damage your skin
  • sunscreens in the form of powder and spray make it easier for toxic nano-scale ingredients to get into your body than lotion sunscreens containing the same ingredients
  • some sunscreens—and their toxic ingredients (namely, oxybenzone and other UV filters)—enter the bloodstream. These ingredients may exude free radicals in the sunlight, disrupt the endocrine system, cause allergies, and build up in the body
  • the FDA is not currently taking care of these issues, so you must do so for yourself

Read more here.

SOLUTION: wear biodegradable sunscreens without questionable ingredients, apply it  repeatedly to the skin, wear a hat, and wear UV-resistant clothing (e.g. Solartex and No Zone) .



  1. […] Plan ahead! Bring reusable containers, not Ziplocs (unless you plan on washing and reusing them). Tupperware to take leftovers from restaurants, travel mugs for your coffee, and so on. Also, get your directions straight to avoid wasting excess gas. And don’t forget your biodegradable sunscreen! […]

  2. […] will you refuse purchasing biodegradable sunscreen to take on your snorkeling trip on the grounds that, well, you know, you’re too busy? If you […]

  3. […] their activities eco-friendly. (No information is given as to where they stay, whether they wear biodegradable sunscreen to keep corals safe, or whether they offset the carbon footprint from their flights and so on in any way, however. And […]

  4. […] we know, coral reefs are very fragile creatures. Tourism, sunscreen, and myriad other factors contribute to the reefs’ bleaching and death all over the globe. […]

  5. “…that areas such as marine eco-parks in Mexico straight-out ban them.”

    That’s amazing. Its weird that we never hear anything about this in the popular press – at least I’ve never seen anything. I’m a big believer in organic stuff, and love organic sunscreen like but I’m not sure if that makes so much of a difference…

  6. I think that’s because corporations have immense power. They dole out money to bribe media outlets into bending the news (hello, FOX!) and staying away from certain topics.

    I think organic sunscreen makes a difference, absolutely. I’ll be trying one out later this month, Soleo Organics.

    Thanks for the link!

  7. […] where they teach you diving to contribute toward coral reef research in the area. (Remember that green sunscreen!) Or you can teach English to Buddhist monks in Laos! There are some awesome options in there, […]

  8. […] if someone wants to help the environment and so chooses to vacation at an eco hotel, but then wears regular sunscreen while checking out coral reefs? What if a couple celebrates their wedding on the coast of Quintana […]

  9. […] leave a room, to recycle, to choose reusable containers and plates for your next party, to opt for biodegradable sunscreen next time you’re in the sun, to leave the coral reefs alone when you’re scuba diving, even to […]

  10. I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also go to see this webpage on regular basis to take updated from most up-to-date news.

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