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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Scales

Sun, Sea, and Underwater Gardens

Reef-Friendly Sunscreen

Just like rainforests, coral reefs are considered one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. So far, we know around 60,000 different species living in reefs, including a quarter of all known marine fish. But there may be more. It is estimated that these habitats (which have been around for over 200 million years) are home to 400,000 species.

However, if we want to fully discover them, we must act fast.

Reefs are heavily impacted by climate change. Rising ocean temperatures and increasing water acidity are just two factors contributing to a phenomenon called coral bleaching. The beautiful colors of coral reefs come from the symbiosis of corals with single-cell organisms called zooxanthellae. Corals repel those vital partners when stressed by high temperatures and chemical pollution, which can lead to whole reefs dying off.


Coral reefs are not only an invaluable part of the marine ecosystem, but they are also popular tourist attractions. Diving or snorkeling in these underwater gardens with their colorful inhabitants must be magical. Unfortunately, the swimmers bring more than just admiration.

According to the U.S. marine agency Noaa, 4,000 to 6,000 tons (!) of sunscreens enter coral reefs every year. Because they degrade so slowly, chemicals such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, and parabens accumulate in the plants and wildlife.

As early as 2015, a study in the scientific journal "Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxology" showed how destructive the effect of oxybenzone is on corals, and similar results were found for other popular chemical UV-filters.

So, should you risk sunburn to preserve the reefs? Fortunately, there are reef-safe alternatives. Mineral sunscreens offer broad-spectrum protection without endangering aquatic life.


Sustainable Shopping Made Simple



I only heard about the connection between sunscreens and corals dying a few years ago, when I noticed the first sunscreens advertising as “reef-friendly”. However, when I vetted MyCHELLE dermaceuticals for inclusion in our product suggestions, I was astonished to find that they have been formulating reef-friendly, mineral-based sun protection for over 20 years. That’s what you get when a company starts its business with a clear vision:

Honesty. Transparency. Authenticity. Founded in 2000 in Colorado, MyCHELLE is the original innovator of clean skincare. Since day one, we have worked to be positive and active agents of change in the world by making highly effective products that are inspired by nature. We continue to lead in creating effective, eco-friendly products that are science-driven and help to get real results for all skin types.

From MyChelle’s “About Us”

Today, MyCHELLE offers 10 sunscreens to fit your sun-protection needs and skin type. All of them are reef-safe, free of potentially harmful ingredients, and fully biodegradable.

When they (or MyCHELLE’s other clean skincare products) are suggested in your askBelynda plugin, you can click on the “Reasons Why” to find even more benefits, like the EWG certification MyCHELLE has for all their products.

You can download the free askBelynda Chrome extension if you haven't done so yet. Whenever you shop on Amazon, the plugin will show you carefully curated sustainable options and why we picked them.


Even if all harmful sunscreens were to be banned immediately, and we could reach all our most ambitious climate goals, the reefs need more support. Three-quarters of all major reef systems worldwide already show signs of severe damage, and a lot of coral species are critically endangered.

But science, activists, and NGOs are working hard to save them. I looked into the work of MyCHELLE’s long-term partner, the Coral Restoration Foundation.

They have had huge success with growing coals in “farms” and reattaching them to support the reef’s natural restoration. Here’s how they wrote conservation history in 2009:

  • Coral Restoration Foundation™ outplanted its first nursery-raised staghorn corals at a ship grounding site off Molasses reef called the “Wellwood” site.

  • In 2009, we made history as the Wellwood corals were the first documented nursery-raised corals to spawn.

  • Since then, we’ve worked to develop successful rearing techniques from spawning events. In 2014, we recorded successful coral spawning at multiple locations, including our Tavernier Coral Tree Nursery™ and Molasses Reef.

  • Numerous research groups visit us during the annual coral spawning events to gather invaluable data on this little-studied process.

woman holding a MyCHELLE sunscreen bottle

It’s inspiring to see how eco-conscious brands and passionate scientists work together to protect one of our most precious ecosystems. And it’s great that we can all play a small part in that by making more sustainable choices every day.


Jennifer Scales is a photo artist and train travel enthusiast. When she is not vetting companies for askBelynda, she spreads her love for sustainable travel by capturing the beauty of nature seen through the train window.

Check out her website Landscape in Motion and follow Jennifer Scales | Fine Art on Instagram to see her artwork.

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