What you need to know about Oxybenzone & Octinoxate

The two chemicals found in sunscreen that are damaging coral reefs and your hormones.


Hawaii has become the first US state to ban the sale of chemical sunscreens containing coral harming chemicals oxybenzone & octinoxate. This is something I have written about extensively in my comprehensive review of natural alternative sunscreens. When you start to look into these two chemicals, you discover they are in more than just sunscreen, and they’re killing our reefs and damaging our bodies.



How much sunscreen in the ocean?

Approximately a fifth of the world’s coral has died in the past three years. Some experts believe that only half the amount of coral that was in the oceans 40 years ago, is living today. Research from the U.S. Department of the Interior tells us that 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen enters reef areas annually. This does not spread out rapidly or evenly over the entire ocean, but concentrates on popular tourist sites. It is estimated that 90% of popular diving/snorkeling spots are concentrated on 10% of the world’s reefs. This means that our most popular reefs, such as those in Hawaii, are exposed to the majority of sunscreen damage.


Manta Ray scuba diving



Oxybenzone and octinoxate damaging coral reefs

Sunscreens are categorised into chemical absorbers or physical blockers – something I explain in detail in the article Best Surf Sunscreen – Full review & breakdown of top brands. The chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, found in the majority of chemical sunscreen products are believed by scientists to be toxic to coral reefs:


Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms

– According to the research quoted by Hawaii Gov. David Ige who signed the Hawaii bill


Read the research papers:


SunZee suncream in the surf



Oxybenzone and octinoxate harmful to humans

A large number of studies in animals and cells have shown that these two chemicals affect reproduction and development through altering reproductive and thyroid hormones. Although it is worth noting that the evidence is mixed for some studies (Krause 2012).


Researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone and octinoxate measurements, had significantly lower total testosterone levels (Scinicariello 2016). Margaret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich detected oxybenzone and four other sunscreen filters in Swiss women’s breast milk, indicating that the developing fetus and newborns may be exposed to these substances (Schlumpf 2008, Schlumpf 2010). She detected at least one sunscreen chemical in 85 percent of milk samples.


This led the EWG to put both oxybenzone and octinoxate on it’s harmful chemical watchlist.

Read: EWG’s list of cosmetics and sunscreens that contain Oxybenzone


Source: EWC guide to sunscreens


The Center for Disease Control’s fourth national report found oxybezone in the urine of 97% of the people tested. Independent scientists have reported various concentrations in waterways and fish worldwide. Oxybenzone can also react with chlorine, producing hazardous by-products that can concentrate in swimming pools and wastewater treatment plants.


Read the research papers:



Check your makeup!

While Oxybenzone and octinoxate are not just in sunscreens, they are added to women’s make up. A quick look at my MAC BB cream I use daily as a tinted-moisturiser with an SPF, revealed Oxybenzone as a key ingredient. I have even found it in the shampoo and chapstick that promised to protect my hair and lips from the sun.

Read: EWG’s list of cosmetics and sunscreens that contain Oxybenzone



Check the labels & seek alternatives

While no sunscreen has been proven to be completely ‘reef-friendly,’ those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide (clasified as physical blocker sunscreens), which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found harmful to corals. Sunscreens sold for children or for those with sensitive skin may contain these gentler compounds as the active ingredients. Opt for mineral sunscreens at all times.


Alternatives to chemical sunscreens that I have tested & recommend are:


  • Oxybenzone & Octinoxate free
  • Certified organic & reef friendly
  • Non-Nano Zinc Oxide
  • No fragrance, PABA, parabens, phthalates, BPA
  • Baby and family friendly
  • No animal testing





  • Oxybenzone & Octinoxate free
  • No parabens, mineral oils or PABAs
  • High UVA & UVB protection
  • Rubs in easily and dries clear
  • Suitable for all skin types, use on face & body





  • Oxybenzone and octinoxate free
  • Reef friendly
  • Non-nano
  • Lightweight formula that’s not greasy
  • Organic green tea, rose hips and buriti oil for repairing damaged skin






        • Oxybenzone & octinoxate free
        • UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection
        • High-Performance Premium Zinc Formula
        • Water Resistant / 80 Minutes
        • Paraben, PABA & Petroleum Free
        • Oil Free / Fragrance-Free








Physical blockers I recommend for the face:


  • Oxybenzone and octinoxate free
  • Reef friendly
  • Non-nano zinc oxide
  • Food grade organic ingredients
  • Made with Thanaka – a sustainable & regenerative ingredient


  • Oxybenzone and octinoxate free
  • Reef friendly
  • Non-nano zinc oxide
  • EWG Top Rated Safest Sunscreen
  • Ideal for face, nose, ears, and more










Other good options are also Surf Mud & Surf Yogis

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


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