What is Reef-Safe Sunscreen?

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Earlier this month, Hawaii became the first state in America to pass a bill banning sunscreen that contains certain chemicals in stores after studies found that the chemicals can hurt coral reefs.

It’s a win for any organization in Hawaii that advocates for marine life protection, including Dolphins and You. But more importantly, it’s a win for all of the marine wildlife that we are lucky enough to swim with here in Hawaii.

So what is “reef-safe” sunscreen?

Most commercial sunscreens contain a chemical called “oxybenzone,” which is usually listed under Active Ingredients. In 2015, a study by a team of international scientists found that oxybenzone and other chemicals in sunscreen can “bleach” coral. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. As coral loses nutrients, it turns white. Once the coral turns white, it begins to die.

The scientists also discovered that just a drop of the chemical can damage coral reefs.

In and around Hawaii’s waters, thousands of tons of sunscreen run off from people’s bodies into the ocean. In response, the state took action by passing the bill banning the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone.


How can you help?

Woman swimming with dolphins
The law only impacts sales within Hawaii. Dolphins and You hosts up to 80 guests on its dolphin swim tours every day, many of whom are visiting from outside of Hawaii. And in Hawaii’s strong sun, most need to wear sunscreen to protect their skin. Luckily, there are ways to do so in an reef-friendly way.

As a Hawaii Ecotourism Association certified tour, Dolphins and You is committed to protecting the environment. Dolphins and You offers reef-safe 30 SPF sunscreen available for $5 in the our office on Lewers Street. The 1.9 oz. (56 mL) bottles last for several uses in the ocean. The size is also suitable for bringing onto an airplane. 

For those who spend a lot of time in and around the ocean, there are other brands that offer reef-safe alternatives. Some examples include Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen, Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen and Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen. Many are available at common retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart. In addition, experts recommend using a slather sunscreen instead of a spray can. When spraying on sunscreen, the chemicals can travel through the air and into the ocean.


Keep the ocean colorful

Colorful tropical fish

Coral is beautiful to look at, but it’s also a living organism. And up to a quarter of all ocean marine species depend on it to live. The means that the health of coral reefs has a big impact on the health of everything living in the ocean, including Hawaii’s marvelous dolphins.

Join Dolphins and You in keeping the reef thriving and colorful for generations to come by opting for reef-safe sunscreens while you shop!

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