Are sunscreens truly ever ocean safe?

Are sunscreens truly ever ocean safe?

Over the last decade consciousness about the destructive nature of human activity on our planet's oceans has been increasing. We are now collectively aware of issues such as overfishing, pollution and plastic, just to name a few.  Their disastrous effect on marine life is heart-breaking. Recently, attention has shifted to the emerging science demonstrating that our oceans' health is not only damaged by these known elements, but also something more insidious. The creams we slather on our skins protect ourselves from the sun.  

UV filters are everywhere. Not only in our favourite sunscreen but also in cosmetics, home products and food packing to protect against photodegradation(1). They all find their way into our ocean. High concentrations of chemical UV filters have been found widely in wastewater entering our oceans and in temperate surface water, with popular coastal waters being hot spots of contamination(1).  Several of these UV filters have been demonstrated as endocrine disruptors (2) and even at very low concentrations they can cause rapid and complete bleaching of hard corals (3). Just as disturbing is the ability of these chemicals to bioaccumulate within the tissue of marine animals that end up on our plate. UV filters have been found in fish from various Iberian river basins to wild coastal mussels in France (4) (5), There is also increasing evidence of biomagnification, that is of these chemicals are found in higher concentrations the further they go up the food chain (5),  It seems the harder we look, the worse the picture gets. 


 So, what can we do? 


  • Don’t trust company claims, do your own research. There are many companies that advertise themselves as “reef friendly” however this term is not regulated in the EU so it's a difficult claim to trust.
  • Use NON-nano zinc oxide. Recent research has shown that nano zinc oxide can be just as harmful to coral reefs as chemical UV filters, especially when used in combination with other UV filters (6) (7). To date,  non- nano zinc oxide remains the safest sun filter for your health and our ocean, click here to find out more
  • Do your research and keep up to date. At Sol de Ibiza we are constantly updating ourselves on the effects of UV filters on the environment and human health. Check out our table of common UV filters  for links to the latest research we have found. 
  • The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory has been investigating these issues for the last ten years and have created a list of UV filters that pose a risk to ecological health. We have created a table below that includes all the UV filters to watch out for. 


THE HEL LIST (what to watch out for)

any form of microplastic sphere or beads

any nanoparticles like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide



4-methylbenzylidene camphor


Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)

Methyl Paraben










  1. Kwon B, Choi K. Occurrence of major organic UV filters in aquatic environments and their endocrine disruption potentials: A mini-review. Integr Environ Assess Manag. 2021 Sep;17(5):940-950. doi: 10.1002/ieam.4449. Epub 2021 Jun 11. PMID: 33991024.
  2. Schlumpf, Margret & Schmid, Peter & Durrer, Stefan & Maerkel, Kirsten & Henseler, Manuel & Gruetter, Melanie & Herzog, Ingrid & Reolon, Sasha & Ceccatelli, Raffaella & Faass, Oliver & Stutz, Eva & Jarry, Hubertus & Wuttke, Wolfgang & Lichtensteiger, Walter. (2005). Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic UV filters - An update. Toxicology. 205. 113-22. 10.1016/j.tox.2004.06.043.
  3.  Danovaro R, Bongiorni L, Corinaldesi C, et al. Sunscreens cause coral bleaching by promoting viral infections. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(4):441-447. doi:10.1289/ehp.10966
  4.  M. Bachelot, Z. Li, D. Munaron, P. Le Gall, C. Casellas, H. Fenet, E. Gomez Organic UV filter concentrations in marine mussels from French coastal regions Sci. Total Environ., 420 (2012), pp. 273-279
  5.  Gago-Ferrero, Pablo & Díaz-Cruz, Silvia & Barcelo, Damia. (2015). UV filters bioaccumulation in fish from Iberian river basins. The Science of the total environment. 518-519C. 518-525. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.03.026.
  6.  Corinaldesi C, Marcellini F, Nepote E, Damiani E, Danovaro R. Impact of inorganic UV filters contained in sunscreen products on tropical stony corals (Acropora spp.). Sci Total Environ. 2018 Oct 1;637-638:1279-1285. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.108. Epub 2018 May 22. PMID: 29801220. 
  7. Fel, JP., Lacherez, C., Bensetra, A. et al. Photochemical response of the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata to some sunscreen ingredients. Coral Reefs 38, 109–122 (2019).