Biodegradable Sunscreen & Soap | Island Expeditions

Biodegradable Sunscreen & Soap

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Q: What is biodegradable sunscreen?

A:  Biodegradable sun-block is environmentally friendly sunscreen that lacks the harmful ingredients that are destroying the world's coral reefs.  These sunscreens are biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally in the environment, and eco-friendly, meaning that they minimize damage to the environment.  We strongly encourage using only biodegradable sunscreen anytime you are going to be in the water if you have found one that works for you.

Q: How do I know if my sunscreen is biodegradable?

A: If it doesn't say it is on the package then it isn't.  None of the major brands are biodegradable - such as Coppertone, Banana Boat, No-Ad, etc.

Q: Are there certain ingredients to watch out for?

A:  Some of the most harmful ingredients that many sunscreens contain, including some that are actually biodegradable such as those made by Nature's Gate, are PABA, octinoxate, oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and the preservative butylparaben.  If your sunscreen has any of these ingredients, it is not safe for use on the reefs.

Q: What kind of damage does sunscreen do to the marine ecosystem?

A:  One of the most harmful things to the natural underwater environment of Mexico and elsewhere is the sunscreens, oils, and sun-blocks worn by tourists.  We don't think of it, but when we swim in the water, these oils come off and settle on the coral reefs and other marine life, and in volume can almost act like an oil slick in the water, creating damage to the delicate ecosystems.  The reefs are suffocated, and sunscreens are one of the biggest causes of bleaching to our reefs, and the death of much of the world's coral.

Q: Why does coral get bleached?  Is coral bleaching really a problem?

A:  The ingredients in normal sunscreens promote viral infection in the coral, as well as covering it with oils and goo.  Between 4000 and 6000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers every year on their vacations. As much as 25% of the world's coral reefs are in imminent danger of collapse due to human pressures, and another 25% is in longer term danger.

Q: I've never heard of this before.  Are you making this stuff up?

A: See the links below for the latest information.

National Geographic: Swimmer's Suncreen Killing Off Corals

E-Turbo News: Tourist Sunscreen Killing Off Coral Reefs

Environmental Science & Tech: Sunscreens go Viral on Coral

Discover Magazine: The Biology of Sunscreens

Q: What about product labeling?

A:  Meaningless claims. "Natural," "environmentally friendly," and "nontoxic" lack standard definitions. Even "biodegradable" means little unless the claim is specific: for example, "biodegradable in three days" or "certified biodegradable."

Meaningful claims. "Certified biodegradable" is independently verified, as is the Leaping Bunny symbol on Earth Friendly and Seventh Generation detergents. That logo indicates that a product wasn't tested on animals during any stage of its development. Another tip: Look for specific claims such as "contains no artificial dyes or fragrances," then look for an ingredients list, which might help confirm the claim.

A good source for product information is

Q: Where can I buy Biodegradable Sunscreen?

A:  You may find some brands on-line through various sources such as Amazon, at your local health food store, and some outdoor gear stores.  We have provided a few links below: