In 2008, the National Center for Biotechnology Information released a scientific study revealing approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in oceans each year. The highest concentration of high-risk sunscreen ingredients were found near coral reefs. This means the sunscreen you put on before snorkeling, kayaking, or swimming in the ocean doesn’t just stay on your skin and protect you from UV damage, it washes off and remains in the ocean, causing serious damage to coral reefs and marine life. Thanks to studies like these, governments around the world are changing legislation to support the environmental impact from sunscreens not only on our coral reefs, but our planet as a whole.
In July 2019, we can finally say Hurray to the USVI Government for passing legislation to protect the USVI Coral Reefs by prohibiting the sale and distribution of non-mineral sunscreens which cause harm to local marine life, as well as possibly yourself. This is great news for conservation, although many visitors are confused about which products to buy that are effective to use in the strong Caribbean sun. There are many options, although we suggest you purchase your reef-safe sunscreen before traveling to the islands.
This policy has been a challenging one for the USVI Government to enforce as the ban went into effect March 30, 2020 during the Covid health crisis. The enforcement problems are with both Retailers and Visitors alike. Also, the sunscreen industry is still promoting “reef friendly” products which contain banned ingredients. Let’s just say making the right choice for the Retailers and Visitors is a little tricky, but totally worth the effort.
To avoid significant harmful impact on the coral reefs, please make sure your products do not contain, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, Octisalate, and Octinoxate, as well as homosalate and avobenzone. If the product you are reviewing contains these ingredients, please do not purchase them for use in the USVI. These ingredients can cause mortality in developing coral, increased coral bleaching, genetic damage to coral and other marine life. Not to mention some of the ingredients are linked to cancer and birth defects.
If you are looking for the most all natural ingredients to use on your skin, please use Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are active ingredients and prevent your skin from absorbing too much sun. The Virgin Islands National Park, which is a part of the U.S. National Park Service, also supported the legislation and explained that visitors and residents should be using only mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are the best choices, although the skin does not absorb the ingredients as well as other sunscreens and can leave a white cast on the skin. Wearing a rash guard during snorkeling can help cut down on the amount of sunscreen needed while in the water near the coral reefs.
Another Big No No in the USVI is Spray Sunscreen! This goes for both beach and boat charters. Because the sunscreen can be picked up by the wind on the beach, it can be dispersed onto the sand and into the ocean. And spray sunscreen on a boat charter is a disaster waiting to happen as the spray can get all over the boat.
There are many all-natural non-toxic brands to consider during purchase. Badger, Babo, All Good, Raw Love, Kokua Sun Care, Think Sport, Bare Republic, Counter Sun are a few brands which honor reef-safe ingredients. There are still companies such as Sun Bum claiming to be providing reef-safe ingredients, although their products still contains octocrylene which is a banned ingredient in the USVI. Please be very careful when you are purchasing a reef-safe sunscreen and if you are not sure, look up the ingredients yourself to play it safe and know that you purchased an acceptable product for use in the USVI. Our coral reefs say thank you!
If you would like more information, please go the Safe Sunscreen Council’s website.