Reef-Friendly Sun Protection

Snorkler in red shirt and leggings diving underwater near coral.
A snorkler wearing reef-friendly sun protection dives near corals.

NPS/Ron Bend
War In The Pacific National Historical Park

More than a million people explore coral reefs in national parks every year, and many of them apply sunscreen during their visit. However, many sunscreens contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, or avobenzone, and these ingredients pose a threat to coral reefs. When these chemicals wash off our bodies, they can harm reef health. Small steps can make a big impact when protecting the health and economic value of coral reefs in our national parks.

To protect park resources and visitor safety, the National Park Service encourages the use and sale of sun protection that is less harmful to our reefs. This includes protective clothing and mineral-based sunscreens with only titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Be aware that sunscreens with "reef-friendly" branding may include ingredients that are harmful. Always look at the active ingredients to determine if they only include the minerals titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

What are alternate forms of sun protection?

Visitors to parks with coral reefs can prevent a sunburn by wearing a stylish hat, sunglasses, and a UV-blocking shirt (such as a rash guard or sun shirt). Mineral-based sunscreens that use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to reflect the sun’s rays and are much less likely to harm coral reefs and the biodiversity they support.

How do we encourage visitors to use alternate sun protection?

Concessionaires can help by displaying protective clothing and mineral-based sunscreens beside each other in stores. This helps park visitors make decisions that protect them from harmful UV-rays and our coral reefs. The National Park Service developed a set of graphics that make it easy for customers to identify mineral-based sunscreens and alternate options. Concessionaires can download these graphics for use with items that are include only titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

These and other efforts can help improve the condition of coral reefs that are declining worldwide. For more ways that you can help preserve healthy coral reefs, the visitors they attract, and the economic vitality of the local community try living blue.

Last updated: August 11, 2022