Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Your Essential Guide for Ocean-Friendly Protection
  DALL·E 2023 12 21 13.03.44 An image of a tube of reef safe sunscreen placed on a sandy beach with clear blue ocean in the background. The sunscreen tube is labeled Reef Safe Su Copier


As we bask in the sun’s glory, either lounging on a beach or diving into the marine depths, it’s crucial to consider the impact of our sunscreen choices on ocean ecosystems. Reef-safe sunscreen has emerged as a pivotal component of eco-friendly practices, especially in safeguarding coral reefs – the underwater rainforests of our planet.

We believe that the article is less fun, but as a scuba diving centre and responsible individual, you must know and share the information below. Please help us protect our marine life.

If some of you are informed, most people ignore the risk linked to sunscreen. Sunscreen is destructive for our underwater world (corals and fish and plankton) and the human body!

In this blog post, we aim to summarize the situation. We are not professional writers, but we collected articles, research, and proven data to prepare this article. The goal is to popularize the data to let everyone understand and take solution for your next holiday

 Never forget that every gesture counts!


Let’s start with a figure: about 14,000 tons of sunscreen are dumped into the oceans every year (!). The scientific fact: we know that it only takes 20 minutes for 1/4 of the sunscreen smeared on the body to end up in the ocean.

Even if you don’t bathe after applying sunscreen, it can run off while you’re showering. Aerosols often spray large amounts of sunscreen into the sand, which ends up in the oceans.

Suppose we are the cause of this contamination. In that case, we are also able to help these fragile marine ecosystems be protected by using effective alternatives.

In 2017, Hawaii legislators passed a bill to ban sunscreen sales containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, another harmful chemical compound. Hawaii is the first state to take such a step, which could go into effect by January 1, 2021.

We have taken this law into account, and we apply it to Dragon Dive Komodo (and some other local actors do the same, a mini victory for Komodo that we must continue to promote)

In 2008, a team of researchers from the Faculty of Science of the Polytechnic University of Marche estimated that sunscreens threaten 10% of corals. At the same time, 25% of marine species depend on coral.

For example, in recent years, the coral reef has been destroyed to the extent of (data from

  • 40% in Hawaii
  • 40% in the Great Barrier Reef
  • 85% in the Caribbean
  • 99% in the Florida Keys
  • AND almost 90% in GILI island (Lombok Indonesia)
  • AND almost not touched yet in KOMODO, SO IT MUST STAY THAT WAY!


In 2015, biologist Craig Downs and his team conducted a study showing that certain chemical compounds in sunscreens were an even more significant threat to corals than global warming and pollution!

One of them “can harm living coral in concentrations as small as 62 parts per trillion, the equivalent of a single drop of water in six Olympic-sized swimming pools” (

No need to go into the details of the scientific names for the moment (we list them at the end) but globally, the impact of sunscreen on the oceans is :

  • The development of infections that destroy the zooxanthella, a microalga that lives in symbiosis with coral and is necessary for its development. And thus, the death of the coral in the long run.
  • Presence of chemicals in the tissues of marine mammals and fish
  • The presence of products on the sand threatens the nesting of baby turtles
  • Disruption or destruction of corals, sea urchins, and starfish
  • Modification of coral DNA
  • Inhibition of phytoplankton growth
  • Intrusion in the exchange between air and water (surface film)

DALL·E 2023 12 21 13.06.48 A realistic underwater scene featuring a fish whimsically applying sunscreen. The fish rendered with lifelike details is using its fins to spread su Copier

The Threat to Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, known for their vibrant beauty and biodiversity, are under threat. Among various factors, chemical sunscreens have been identified as culprits in damaging these delicate ecosystems. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate are known to cause coral bleaching, harm marine life, and disrupt oceanic environments.

The Rise of Reef-Safe Sunscreens

Reef-safe sunscreens, formulated without these harmful chemicals, offer a solution. They use mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, providing effective sun protection without the adverse environmental effects. But what exactly makes a sunscreen ‘reef-safe’, and how can you choose the right one? Let’s dive deeper.

Understanding Reef-Safe Sunscreen: The Science Behind Reef-Safe Formulas

Reef-safe sunscreens are crafted to minimize the ecological footprint on marine life. Unlike chemical sunscreens that absorb into your skin (and wash off into the ocean), mineral-based sunscreens create a physical barrier that reflects UV rays. This means fewer harmful chemicals are released into the water.

Decoding the Labels

Unfortunately, there’s no regulated standard for what constitutes “reef-safe.” Hence, it’s important to read labels carefully. Look for products free from oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, PABA, enzacamene, homosalate, and other harmful chemicals. Instead, opt for those containing non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

The Importance of Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Protecting Biodiversity

Coral reefs support a vast array of marine life. By using reef-safe sunscreen, you’re directly contributing to the protection of this biodiversity. Healthy reefs are crucial for marine ecosystems to thrive.

Human Health Implications

Reef-damaging sunscreens don’t just affect marine life; they can also have potential health implications for humans. Chemicals in these sunscreens can disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies. Mineral-based sunscreens are generally gentler and safer.

A Step Towards Sustainable Tourism

Using reef-safe sunscreen is part of responsible tourism. It’s about making conscious choices that reduce our environmental footprint and preserve natural wonders for future generations.

Choosing the Right Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Ingredients to Look For

The best reef-safe sunscreens contain non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. These minerals are effective in blocking both UVA and UVB rays and are less likely to be harmful to marine life.

Texture and Application

Mineral sunscreens can be thicker and might leave a white cast on the skin. However, recent formulations have improved significantly in terms of texture and ease of application.

SPF and Broad-Spectrum Protection

Ensure your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection with an SPF of at least 30. This ensures you’re protected against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays.

Water Resistance

For swimmers and divers, choose a water-resistant formula. Remember, reapplication every two hours or after swimming is key for effective protection.

Other Sun Protection Measures

Wear Protective Clothing

Consider wearing UV-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses. These provide additional protection and reduce the amount of sunscreen needed.

Seek Shade

Limit direct sun exposure, especially during peak hours. Seeking shade is an effective way to reduce UV exposure.

Be Mindful of Timing

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to ensure it’s fully absorbed and effective.

The Broader Impact

Supporting Coral Reef Conservation

By choosing reef-safe sunscreens, you’re supporting broader coral reef conservation efforts. It’s a small step that can have a significant impact when collectively embraced.

Educating Others

Spread the word about the importance of reef-safe sunscreens. Education and awareness are key in driving change and protecting our oceans.

DALL·E 2023 12 21 13.06.23 A realistic underwater scene showing a turtle applying sunscreen in a playful imaginative manner. The turtle is rendered with lifelike details using Copier

Advocating for Policy Changes

Support and advocate for regulations that ban harmful sunscreen chemicals. Policy changes can lead to the widespread adoption of reef-safe products.


Reef-safe sunscreen is more than just a product choice; it’s a commitment to preserving our planet’s oceans. As individuals, our choices can collectively make a significant impact. By opting for ocean-friendly sunscreens, we not only protect our skin but also contribute to the health and longevity of our marine ecosystems.

In the end, embracing reef-safe sunscreens is about aligning our outdoor pleasures with environmental responsibility. It’s a testament to our respect for the natural world and our role in safeguarding it. As we continue to enjoy the sun and sea, let’s do so with the consciousness of preserving these wonders for the awe and enjoyment of generations to come.

Remember, each time you apply a dab of reef-safe sunscreen, you’re casting a vote for a healthier, more vibrant ocean. Let’s make every choice count.

reef safe sunscreen

As an eco-conscious dive centre, Dragon Dive Komodo offers reef-safe sunscreen on their boat and has it available for sale at their dive shop.

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