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The Gap Year Blog

Is Sun Cream Polluting Our Oceans?

4 Sep 2019 17:05 PM

Sun cream is often the most important item we pack when travelling abroad to a sunny destination. Aside from factors including climate change, over-fishing and ocean acidification, what we don’t realise is that our everyday use of sun protection is contributing to the depletion of coral reefs around the world.

New research has discovered that the common chemical compounds found in sun creams - oxybenzone and octinoxate – are highly toxic to coral reefs, causing them to bleach. Coral bleaching is the phenomenon whereby the coral rejects symbiotic relationships, thereby losing its colour and fundamentally killing it.

Oxybenzone begins to cause damage to corals and the ocean at a concentration as low as one drop in Six and a half Olympic swimming pools. Whilst this may not sound like much considering how large the ocean is, the effects felt are widespread, as the chemicals prevent the coral from building and replenishing their physical structures.

Studies found that the highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found around coral reefs in popular tourist destinations such as Hawaii and the Caribbean. Most notably however, two specific species of reef building corals; elkhorn and staghorn, have declined between 92-97% since the 1970s – a staggering statistic that highlights the serious need to prevent further reef depletion.

Coral reefs only take up about 1% of the ocean floor, but they are vital for around 25% of all ocean species, providing protection and shelter for many fish and sea life, and protecting coastlines from strong waves and currents. But most importantly, coral reefs control how much carbon dioxide remains in the ocean, as the coral’s limestone shell is formed as a result of the ocean processing levels of carbon dioxide.

This is because the coral’s limestone shell is formed as a result of the ocean processing levels of carbon dioxide. From this perspective, it is quite clear that without them, carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise and affect entire ecosystems on the planet.


These UV-filtering ingredients are found in over 3,500 brands of sun cream worldwide. Want to find a more eco-friendly option to help save ‘the rainforests of the sea’? Below are some top suggestions:



1)    Badger SPF Sport Sun Cream

Badger sun cream contains no oxybenzone, octinoxate or harsh chemical ingredients. The product is unscented, biodegradable and ocean friendly. It is 100% naturally certified, as it comes in a recyclable tube.

2)    Life Basics SPF 30 All Natural Sun cream

This is an all-natural, vegan friendly product made in Australia containing ingredients such as zinc oxide, calendula, green tea and rosehip oil which helps nourish the skin and the ocean.

3)    Wawai’s Organics

This is an ocean friendly product made in the Philippines. It is packaged in refillable containers to support the zero-waste movement, helping the planet in more ways than one.



By Olivia, Frontier Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!