Is your Sunscreen Harming the Reef?

After 5 weeks in the cold, arriving back to Australian summer has been a shock for my pasty white skin. Whilst I love the heat I've been burnt one too many times and so I'm now much more careful with how I interact with the sun. If possible, I've been avoiding full sun exposure between 11am and 5pm, and getting my Vitamin D levels in the earlier hours between 7 and 10am.

However, there have been a few occasions where I've needed to turn to sunscreen, as I'm sure most of us do in these hot summer months. It was just a couple of weeks ago when I was reading a book on natural beauty when I became aware that the chemicals in many commercial sunscreens are linked to the degradation of coral reefs! And if they're killing the coral reefs, imagine what they're doing to the marine life and to us. So, before you go and buy another tube of sunscreen, here is what you need to know.

Firstly, here's the Dark side.

Each year 14 million kilograms of sunscreen wash off into the ocean.

And many of these sunscreens contain toxins that poison our coral reefs and marine life .

The main perpetrating chemicals (listed under 'active ingredients') are Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Dioxybenzonate.

And if they're poisoning our reefs, imagine what they're doing to us.

I've since memorised these three chemicals and have been sussing out all the sunscreens I come into contact with. I've noticed that where some brands have managed to avoid the above three chemicals, they still have some pretty nasty chemicals in them. So if you don't mind, I'll add another three to your list to check off. These are Homosalates, Parabens and Retinyl Palmitate.

And why are these three bad for us?


A known endocrine disruptor, particularly in the estrogen system - found to speed up the development of breast cancer cells by 3.5x.

Retinyl Palmitate:

This is actually a form of Vitamin A, but when applied to the skin exposed to sunlight, this bugger of an ingredient has been proven to increase the development of skin tumours as well as contribute to liver damage, brittle nails, hair loss, and osteoporosis and hip fractures.


You've probably heard of Parabens, but these chemicals (listed as ((butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, and propyl-) on an ingredients label) is an endocrine disruptor, particularly affecting the growth and development of a child. They are also known to can induce allergic reactions.

So what Sunscreen should you use?

You want to look for mineral based sunscreens, with the active ingredients 'zinc oxide' or 'titanium dioxide' instead.

These natural versions tend to be a little thicker, so to make them spread a little easier, mix with a small amount of organic body oils (jojoba, rosehip, olive, coconut or sesame are good ones)

The reason the mineral versions are thicker, is because they work by creating a layer over the skin to reflect UV rays.

The chemical versions, however, absorb the UV rays before they can do damage to the skin.

What do I use?

I've been using the Little Urchin sunscreen and it's been great, but I've also heard good things about: Badger / Wotnot / Sun and Earth / AKT Therapy

Wise Interaction with the Sun

As I mentioned, I'm fair skinned and growing up, too much sun almost ALWAYS mean't a dreaded sunburn. You only need a few bad ones and covering up becomes much more desirable than sun-baking.

However, the sun is not to be feared and offers so many benefits such as strengthening bones, boosting immune system function, healing wounds and of course boosting our VitD levels. And it's free!

Here are 3 things to consider, and that I personally practise in the sunnier months.

Dapple in Sunlight:

It's proven that getting sunlight on your skin without sunscreen is actually BETTER for you. However you have to make sure you don't get burnt, which is why I choose the hours between 7am - 10am to face my bare skin to the sun. It's important, however that you build up slowly to adjust your body. You'll know when to cover up when your skin starts to feel warm - your bodies natural defence mechanism.

Wear light layers:

In the hours where the sun is its strongest (usually between 10am - 5pm) I will usually cover up with light layers if I know I'm going to be out for an extended period of time. I love light linen or cotton shirts or loose tops and linen beach pants. Also, wearing a hat is often a better choice than sunglasses as your eyes NEED sunlight (not staring directly into it though).

Eat your Sunscreen:

Indulge in beautiful sun-ripened fruit, veggies and herbs like tomatoes, leafy greens watermelon, green tea, turmeric, capsicum and berries. Good quality fats like flax seeds and almonds are also great at protecting the from sun damage. And don't forget dark chocolate which has a load of phenols and catechins to protect the skin against sunburn.

I'm really passionate about uncovering alternative ways of living, being and consuming that can benefit us and our environment. I hope that this little Sunscreen guide will give you a bit of help when navigating your sun-care practises.

Thanks for reading,


walk gently on the earth as though you are kissing it with your feet.

Thich Naht Hahn