Key West banned sunscreens with ingredients that are
thought to be harmful to coral reefs. So, if you want to avoid
these sunscreens, how do you find one that's "reef safe"?
There are two sunscreens that have been shown to potentially impact coral reefs. These are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Both are considered chemical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens are products that absorb UV to lessen its affects on the skin. It was discovered that coral was dying in tourist locations. Some areas can have thousands of tourists in the water on a particular day. So much so that the surface of the water can sometimes appear to have an ‘oil slick’ from all of the products people use!
Oxybenzone in many sunscreen products was shown to potentially damage the DNA of coral. This made coral sterile and unable to reproduce. Coral bleaching was another issue noted.
The good news is that we have plenty of other products to choose from. There are currently 16 FDA approved sunscreen ingredients. This leaves us with 14 other ingredients to choose from.
It is interesting to note that last week the FDA proposed changes to sunscreen labeling that would deem certain ingredients as ‘GRASE’ or generally recognized as safe and effective. The two it would deem as GRASE are zinc and titanium. These are both physical sunblocks. These are also the two I tend to recommended using. The other sunscreen ingredients are currently considered safe to use however the FDA is requesting further information on safety.
What should someone look for? And are all "reef safe" sunscreens
truly "reef safe"?
The rest of the sunscreens available are generally regarded as reef safe, although this continues to be studied. The key is to look for and avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate at this point.