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What Does "Reef-Safe" Really Mean?

Published: 09/06/2021

Why is being reef-friendly so important? Because approximately 6,000 tons of sunscreen finds its way onto coral reefs annually and some of the chemicals are causing irreparable damage to these amazing underwater ecosystems.

Two of the most common sunscreen chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been deemed potentially harmful to aquatic life by many researchers worldwide and were recently banned in both Hawaii and Key West, Florida.

Now, many sunscreen brands claim to be “reef-safe” if they do not use these two ingredients, but oxybenzone and octinoxate aren’t the only ingredients that may be damaging to marine life.

There are several other commonly used sunscreen ingredients—and found in many “reef safe” sunscreens—that might be harmful to marine life, such as octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate.

So, a helpful rule of thumb for sunscreens is to opt for natural mineral-based sunscreens, which have non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredient(s). Be careful because sometimes the marketing trick is to say that the product contains zinc oxide on the front label, but when you flip it over you see zinc oxide combined with chemical sunscreens and/or other marine toxic ingredients.

The fact is the federal government requires sunscreen claims to be “truthful and not misleading,” but the term “reef-safe” doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition, and therefore isn’t currently strictly regulated.

Shameless plug: Hello Bello does not use any of these chemical sunscreens suspected of causing or known to cause harm to coral reefs. Instead, our active sunscreen ingredient for our lotionspray, and stick is non-nano zinc oxide, which has not been found to damage reefs and is recommended by the National Park Service.

And for more helpful sunscreen info, check out these posts: