Does Sunscreen Harm Corals & Marine Life? Is Your Sunscreen Killing Marine Life?


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Many recent studies are focusing on how the activities of humans affect marine life, and it should come as no surprise that a lot of man’s activity affects the balance of the ecosystem. One of the most recently studied impacts of man’s activity on marine life is how sunscreens affect coral reefs and other marine lives such as dolphins, mussels, green algae, and sea urchins.

What are Corals?

Corals are underwater creatures made from floating coral larvae latching themselves on rocks or the bottom parts of shallow water bodies. Each coral is made up of thousands of coral polyps that are barely visible to the naked eye.

Corals are very beautiful and important marine life. Corals are animals. Though they look like plants, they have one crucial difference from plants — they get food from outside sources, they do not make their own nutrients like plants do.

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Effects of Sunscreens on Corals

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the algae that live on them. The algae help give corals their nutrients and keep them from dying. When corals are introduced to certain chemicals, they become tired and slowly drive away their source of nutrients – the algae. As a result, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching occurs.

Coral bleaching begins with algae moving away from corals and ends when the beautiful creatures wither away and die. The deaths of corals can be caused by the use of sunscreens and other causes such as climate change.

Research shows that coral bleaching, deformity of young ones, and so many other adverse effects are caused in the ocean by the tons of sunscreens that get into water bodies.

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How do Sunscreens get into Water Bodies

Swimmers generously apply sunscreens on the bodies before getting into the water; unfortunately, these substances never really stay on the skin. They wash away in the water and begin to contribute to the decimation of the oceans and marine lives. Sunscreens that are sprayed on the skin might even be more dangerous, researchers say, as they soak up the sand on beaches, and with each wave that sweeps the sand, the substances are directly taken to the water.

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Chemicals in Sunscreens that affect Corals

Most of the sunscreens that are available for sale contain many harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals, potent as they are in protecting the skin against the UV Rays of the sun, are also toxic to the coral reefs that beautify many of the water bodies around the world. Many other substances used in sunscreens are dangerous to marine life.

What is the extent of the damage to marine life?

Most of the chemical substances used in sunscreens are so harmful that even a tiny drop can affect a large water pool. Imagine a water body that gets visits from hundreds of swimmers wearing sunscreens every day. The consequences are almost unimaginable.

Another factor that is perhaps making the situation worse is that corals spread infections and stress to other corals. This is because they exist in reefs and most often, what happens to one keeps spreading until others are affected.

Research conducted in Hawaii showed consequences so grave that the state banned the sales of sunscreens that contain the harmful chemicals.

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How the Situation can be Changed

Many things can be done to stop the death of corals, but one thing all the solutions have in common is keeping the chemicals away from the water. This will ensure that at least one of the problems facing marine life is addressed and laid to rest.

Reef-safe sunscreens

When the problem was discovered, many researchers went to their laboratories to produce sunscreens that will be safe on corals and will still be able to protect the skin. There are many reef-safe sunscreens on the market that can be used instead of the harmful chemical-filled ones.

How to Identify reef-safe sunscreens

Sunscreens that do not contain either oxybenzone and octinoxate or other harsh chemicals will most likely be safe on corals reefs. It is also essential to check for the “reef-safe” tag printed on the sunscreens to ensure that they are safe on marine life.

How reef-safe sunscreens work

Many well-known brands are using chemicals that have no harmful effects. The chemicals are used in such low proportions that they will have no impact whatsoever on reefs.

Swim when the temperature is cool

The need for sunscreens is significantly reduced in the mornings and evenings when temperatures are bearable. It is very advisable to swim during these periods to help change the situation of coral reefs and other marine lives.

Sunscreen-free protections

Large beach hats, scarves, umbrellas, and many other sunscreen alternatives should be adopted to ensure the continued health of corals. These materials provide adequate protection for the skin without relying on chemicals, and sea creatures will remain undisturbed.

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Sunscreen Bodies should be Kept from Water Bodies

Another way the water bodies can be kept safe is to avoid going into water bodies when they have applied sunscreens. It is better to swim before using sunscreens so that the chemicals do not get into the water.

Swimmers can apply sunscreens while basking on the beaches while ensuring they do not return to the water.

It is also important to avoid spraying sunscreens on beaches to ensure that the chemicals do not get into the water through the sand on the beaches.

Will Corals Dying Affect Man?

The short answer is yes, a lot. The ecosystem operates on a steep balance. Every organism is important in the total scale of things. Thousands of sea creatures and species rely on corals. If the chemicals from sunscreens and other factors continue to affect the animals, then thousands of species of other sea creatures will be affected.

Fishers, manufacturers, governments, and many others will suffer from the death of the creatures, so it is better to protect them.


Sunscreens are killing coral reefs steadily, and if this dangerous trend continues to remain unchecked, the consequences can be very drastic. To ensure this does not happen, scientists are advising the use of reef-safe sunscreens or other alternatives to ensure the harmful substances stop getting into water bodies around the world.