So I’m still in Malaysia, still having a great time.  I wrote this post before I left after doing lots of research about what sunscreen I should bring with me for my trip.  I decided to keep it up my sleeve for when I inevitably got too busy to write something on here.  Mum, I hope this will keep you satisfied until I have more time for a new post!


I have to admit I haven’t really given the safety of sunscreen much thought before. I’m a stickler for it, since I’m pretty pale and burn quickly. Even though I am transitioning to all natural products, I ignored this one, since I want to make sure I’m looking after my skin and staying safe.

However, preparing for my upcoming trip to Malaysia, I was told that I would only be able to use eco-friendly reef safe sunscreen.   So what exactly is sunscreen doing to the ocean?

Well, lots of common sunscreen brands contain a heap of nasty chemicals. Three of the worst are oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene, which are all endocrine disrupters. That means they can mess with hormonal systems. These chemicals can be harmful  to marine life, and scientists have been finding them in fish, molluscs, corals, sediments and even turtle eggs!

Every year, an estimated 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen is washed off our bodies and into the ocean.

Research in this area is lacking, so just it’s not super clear exactly what scale of impact this could be having. What we do know is that oxybenzone can contribute to coral bleaching, deformation of coral larvae, and impaired coral DNA and reproduction.

Coral bleaching occurs when the coral expels the symbiotic larvae that provides most of its energy

So although it’s not the biggest issue the ocean is facing, it’s also not something we want to let get any worse.

Here are the two best things you can do to help:

  • Try to pick sunscreens that are labelled ‘marine safe’ or ‘reef safe’, biodegradable, and “non-nano” (Most ‘marine safe’ sunscreens are mineral-based, but unfortunately some of these minerals are nano-sized, meaning they can be ingested by corals)
  • Watch out for products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene
Image from Sarah Reid

Obviously though, your health is still the priority, and you shouldn’t ever forgo sunscreen. If you can’t avoid these chemicals, here’s some tips to reduce their impact:

  • Opt for lotions rather than sprays/aerosols– aerosols blow elsewhere during application
  • Choose water resistant options – they’re less likely to wash off
  • Cover up with protective clothing – so you can reduce how much sunscreen you’re using

In case you’re interested, I chose to go with Australian Surf Life Saving’s Beyond the Flags sunscreen. It’s  marine/coral friendly, non-toxic, fish and algae safe, and oxybenzone free.


I hope next time you hit the beach (especially if you’re around coral reefs), you consider looking into some more environmentally friendly sunscreen brands.

Our oceans are suffering enough as it is!


A bleached coral reef system (Image from Daniels/shutterstock)