How Your Sunscreen Could be Harming Wildlife


Living in Colorado provides us with countless ways to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you prefer hiking, skiing, backpacking, or fishing, you’re most likely spending hours at a time exposed to the sun’s intense UV rays. Colorado’s high elevation exposes us to particularly strong UV rays, which you know if you’ve made the mistake of skiing without sunscreen or gone fishing without any sun protection. The easy answer to this predicament is sunscreen, but recent studies have shown that certain chemicals in sunscreens may pose a threat to the very wildlife and biodiversity that many people go outside to enjoy. 

Hawaii recently passed a ban on all sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are present in over 60 percent of all sunscreens. These chemicals have been found to kill young coral and accelerate the bleaching process. In fact, oxybenzone has been found to act as an endocrine disruptor in young coral, causing them to confine themselves in their own skeletons and die soon after. Considering that coral reef ecosystems are already facing incredibly high bleaching rates due to rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming, the additional factor of toxic sunscreens poses an unnecessary threat to an already dying ecosystem. 

Although we live in Colorado and don’t have direct access to these marine ecosystems and their coral reef habitats, it may be beneficial to support the growing movement of “reef-safe” sunscreens. Very little research has been done on the effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on ecosystems other than coral reefs. It’s possible that we may be inadvertently harming wildlife in rivers, streams, and lakes by wearing these sunscreens while recreating outside. The goal of the “reef-safe” sunscreen movement is to reduce the overall number of chemicals that we are putting in our sunscreens. Although oxybenzone and octinoxate have been identified as two environmentally-harmful chemicals, there may be others hiding in our chemical-rich sunscreens that we have yet to discover. 

The sooner consumers begin speaking out against oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreen, the sooner the industry will become toxin-free. Shouldn’t a product that enables outdoor activity also be safe for the wildlife we get outside to enjoy? If you wish to support the “reef-safe” sunscreen movement, I’ve created a short list of sunscreens that won’t pollute our waters with potentially harmful chemicals. Some are just as affordable as the drugstore brands, making it incredibly easy to make the switch. 

Photo By Angel Martinez

Alternative Sunscreens:

Ocean Potion SPF 50 Sport Sunscreen: $5

This sunscreen is affordable, reef-friendly, and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. No reason not to swap it for your current sunscreen!

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Green Tea Sunscreen SPF 45: $6

Affordable, water-resistant, and reef-friendly. Also contains 100 percent vegetarian ingredients (if allergic reactions are a concern).

Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen: $12

This sunscreen doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals and is water-resistant for 80 minutes.

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