What is the impact of sunscreen on the environment?

12 June 2023 | Protect the environment

The summer is getting closer, sunscreen is coming back at the beach, but what is the consequence of its use on the environment?

The sunscreen strongly impacts the environment and is one of the causes of sea pollution, because every year nearly 14 000 tons of sunscreen end up in the seas. After 20 minutes, 25% of the spread sunscreen on the body is diluted in the sea.

What is the sunscreen’s impact on coral reefs?

Searchers estimate that 10% of global coral reefs are threatened by bleaching because of solar protection and tourism. Coral reefs are the most touched and the most hurt by tourists are the Great Barrier of Coral, Hawaii’s bays, in the Virgin isles of the United States and in Israel.

Is tourism having consequences on the coral?

The tourism also has an important impact on the seafloor environment. Victim of their success the bays of “Maya Bay” and the Great Barrier of Coral, have a great success among tourists. Every year, close to 35 million tourists go to Thailand to visit the Maya Bay. Tourists participate at the deterioration of coral reefs. On the one hand by perturbing the ecosystem, by touching and picking up corals. On the other hand, with their coming in boat, which participate to coral erosion.

In Australia, every year, it’s close to 2 million tourists. During the past 30 years, the Great Barrier of Coral has lost half of its coral surface. Since 1995, the reef is strongly coveted by tourists. Insular hotels have seen the day, favoring seafloor pollution. Global warming has caused coral bleaching many times. Nearly 90% of corals are touched by the bleaching. A fourth of corals are dead.

Because of tourists’ activities, we consider that about a fourth of global coral reefs have undergone irreversible damages. Two thirds of corals are seriously threatened. We estimate that in total 20% of coral reefs have already been definitely destroyed these last years.

What action to protect the coral ecosystem?

To preserve the environment some countries don’t hesitate to ban sunscreen. In 2021, to preserve the ecosystem and avoid the coral bleaching that are vitals at the good operation of the bays’ biodiversity. Thailand establishes a decree banning the use of sunscreen in its natural bays.

Indeed, sunscreen strongly impacts coral reefs because they have chemical substances. Which can attack corals and that perturbate their reproductions and their growth cycles leading thus to their bleaching.

What are the impacts of using sunscreen?

According to a study made by the center “The National Center for Biotechnology Information”. The use of sunscreen and care products increase every year in the whole world. Reaching thus unexpected levels and with important consequences on the environment contamination. The release of these products is also linked to the increase of tourist’s frequentation in marine coastal areas.

Chemical filters, being part of sunscreen, are very polluting both in terms of production but also for the environment. They are non-biodegradables and these UV filters persist in the water.

They interfere with photosynthesis, vital to aquatic organisms by blocking the sun’s rays, which favor viruses.

How to protect yourself from the sun while respecting the environment?

The sunscreen impacts more and more the environment but also your skin. To choose a respectful sunscreen for your skin but also for the environment, it’s important to look at its composition. Sunscreens made from oxybenzone, butylated hydroxyanisole, glycol ethers, paraben and UV filters play the role of endocrine disruptors, are strongly not recommended. These chemical products can have some repercussions on your health but also on the ecosystem of seafloors.

It’s then advised to turn to biological sunscreens. They avoid the chemical substances that are present in the classic sunscreens. Sites like Haereticus help you to find sunscreens respectful of the environment and certified ‘Protect Land + Sea”.

They also own a list “HEL list”. It allows you to identify chemical products present in sunscreens and care products. Products that spread themselves in some aquatic and marine ecosystems and that have different negative aspects on their existence.


These days a lot of alternatives exist to protect yourself from the sun, to avoid using sunscreens harmful to the environment. If you can, privilege natural sunscreens or bio sunscreens. They will be more respectful of your skin and those of your children. You could contribute to the protection of the environment.

Unfortunately, sunscreen isn’t the only cause of coral bleaching. Dangers that are over corals are many and we talk more about it in the article treating the causes of corals bleaching.

For example, the increase of the carbon level in the atmosphere is also responsible for the acidification of oceans. This modifies the conditions of life of corals, and partly causes them to disappear. Discover more in the article “Coral reefs and carbon impact”.

To fight against the increase of carbon emissions. Greenoco fights digital pollution. We have developed a tool allowing to measure and reduce the carbon emissions of a website. We have a goal with this tool, to develop a better digital sobriety.

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