It’s hard to imagine that the same sunscreens consumers have been relying on for protection are devastating coral reefs 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.

Riptide Sunscreen

While it's true that coral reefs face many threats such as global warming and pollution, 10% of worldwide coral bleaching is due entirely to the chemicals in commonly sold sunscreen products.

When surfers, snorkelers, divers, and swimmers hit the water wearing chemical sunscreen they contribute to the decline of coral reefs. Unfortunately this issue doesn’t impact beachgoers alone. Any time a person uses sunscreen with chemicals known to disrupt ocean life, it eventually makes its way into the waterways as soon it is showered off.

I don’t want to disrupt ocean life! What ingredients should I avoid in sunscreen?

Trying to translate the back of a drug facts label can be tedious work to say the very least. Thankfully there are helpful resources to fall back on when shopping for an eco-friendly sunscreen product. The HEL List is a list of pollutants that are known to be detrimental to various different environments and wildlife. To help preserve delicate ecosystems, avoid the ingredients listed below in all sunscreen products.

The HEL List:

In addition to completely disrupting ocean life and other habitats, many common sunscreen ingredients pose negative health risks to humans too. If you’re unsure about the impacts of chemical sunscreens 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 Dioxide.

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


  1. When shopping for a sunscreen, carefully review the active and inactive ingredients. Avoid sunscreen containing any of the above mentioned ingredients on The Hel List. ‘Reef-Safe’ claims are unregulated by the FDA and products that are advertised as being ‘Reef-Safe’ oftentimes deceptively contain chemicals that are known toxins to aquatic life. The only way to know for certain if a product is ocean safe is to thoroughly check the ingredients or look for the Protect Land and Sea certification. This certification ensures that the product is free of pollutants listed on The Hel List.
  2. Choose a sunscreen rated ‘Water Resistant 80 Minutes’ because these formulas have been proven to stay on the skin longer, keeping ingredients on you and out of the water.
  3. Choose a sunscreen with inactive ingredients that are biodegradable and can break down in different environments.
  4. The National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using natural mineral sunscreens like Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide to help preserve coral reefs and aquatic life.

Is Riptide Sunscreen Reef-Safe?