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Blog - chemicals



It’s hard to imagine that the same sunscreens consumers have been relying on for protection are devastating coral reef systems worldwide but studies in 2008 and 2015 confirm that common sunscreen ingredients damage fragile coral. As a single person it’s difficult to understand the effect we have on the world’s waterways but 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions enter coral reef systems each year.

While it's true that coral reef systems face many threats such as global warming and pollution (read more here), 10% of worldwide coral bleaching is due entirely to the chemicals in commonly sold sunscreens and that number is too significant to ignore.

It’s important to remember that this issue faces more than just beachgoers, surfers, snorkelers, and divers. Any time a person uses a sunscreen with chemicals known to disrupt ocean life, it enters the waterways as soon as it is showered or cleaned off.

So what chemicals are the most critical to avoid? Studies have found that these four sunscreen ingredients were shown to kill or bleach coral reef systems at tremendously low concentrations:

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3): This ingredient is found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide, induces coral bleaching, damages the DNA of corals, and is an endocrine disruptor causing juvenile coral to encase themselves with their own skeleton, leading to their eventual demise.
  • Butylparaben: This is a preservative found is most sunscreens that also contributes to worldwide coral bleaching.
  • Octinoxate (Ethlyhexyl methoxycinnamate): This ingredient has been shown to cause coral bleaching.
  • 4-methyllbenzylidene camphor (4MBC): Though this ingredient is not allowed in the USA or Japan, it is still commonly found in sunscreens sold throughout Europe and Canada. This ingredient has been shown to cause coral bleaching.

In addition to completely disrupting the reef systems worldwide, many common sunscreen ingredients also pose negative health risks to humans. If you’re unsure about the impacts common sunscreen ingredients can have on human health, check out this ingredients graph created by the Environmental Working Group. The only two ingredients listed that do not come with a slew of negative side effects are zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

So what can consumers do to help reduce their negative impact on the environment?

  • When shopping for a sunscreen, carefully review the active and inactive ingredients and avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone or any of the above mentioned ingredients that studies have shown to damage coral. Even though there are specific aquatic toxicity lab tests that can determine how reef-safe a product is, these claims on sunscreen labels are unregulated therefore checking the ingredients list is of the utmost importance.
  • Choose a water resistant sunscreen, as these formulas have been proven to stay on the skin longer, keeping the ingredients out of the water for as long as possible.
  • Choose a sunscreen that has been tested biodegradable but since this claim is also under-regulated, you may have to ask the company directly for more information.
  • According to the National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using natural mineral sunscreens like titanium oxide or zinc oxide to help preserve delicate reef systems.

So does Riptide Sunscreen pose a threat to the world’s ocean ecosystems? We don’t believe so, here’s why:

  • Reef-safe claims are largely unregulated and there are no official reef-safe certifications however, companies can choose to seek out independent aquatic toxicity tests. In order to determine if ingredients are harmful to fish and other aquatic life, these tests are conducted on living animals. Pacific Beach Organics Company at this time chooses to forgo such tests since these testing processes directly conflict with our ethical stance to not test on animal subjects.
  • Riptide Sunscreen contains only 8 ingredients and none of the known chemicals or preservatives that studies have shown to harm coral reef systems.
  • The only active ingredient in Riptide Sunscreen is non-nano zinc oxide and unlike oxybenzone and other active ingredients, there is no scientific evidence showing that non-nano zinc oxide is detrimental to coral reef systems. Non-nano zinc oxide is a powdered mineral that does not dissolve in water, instead it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor and becomes apart of the sediment.
  • The 7 other inactive ingredients in our Riptide Sunscreen are organic plant oils, butters, beeswax and pure Vitamin E which are all biodegradable and safe for the environment and ocean ecosystems. 

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