The Many Benefits of Using Biodegradable Sunscreen

Biodegradable sunscreen is probably something you have not thought much about, unless you are or have traveled to Mexico or anywhere else where you can snorkel. This is because many popular coral reef and natural pool locations require that you ditch your regular sunscreen for a biodegradable one. The reasoning behind this comes from tons of studies and research that has shown the harmful effects that many sunscreen chemicals have on the marine environments, specifically coral. 

There are many benefits of using biodegradable sunscreen, with the most important one being that it can help protect marine environments from further harm. We will dive into each and every benefits, while also giving you a bit more information about biodegradable sunblock. 

What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Biodegradable sunscreen is fairly self explanatory. Just like any other biodegradable product, the best biodegradable sunscreen is able to breakdown naturally into organic components. In terms of sunscreen, this happens after it is exposed to moisture, heat, and natural micro organisms. This makes the best biodegradable sunscreen very environmentally friendly because it minimizes the impact that the sunscreen has on plant and animal life. How do biodegradable sunblocks do this? Well, it is actually rather simple. The biggest difference between the best biodegradable sunscreen and regular sunscreens is the ingredients and chemicals that are used. More specifically, biodegradable sunscreens do not include environmentally harmful ingredients, some of which are hormone disrupters. We will go over the harmful ingredients in regular sunscreens in a moment, but nearly every type of sunscreen from water resistant to even some labeled reef friendly, contain the same stuff. 

Now you are probably wondering, "Why is this stuff so bad for the environment and why am I just hearing about it now?" Well the truth is, you probably would not have heard of biodegradable sunscreen before unless you have traveled to places that require it. These places include many areas of Mexico like Cancun, Los Cabos, Xcaret, Tulum, Xel Ha, Cozumel, Bacalar, or other popular reef areas like Australia.

If you have just been going to various beaches, you would have probably seen biodegradable sunscreens in those little shops but did not pay them much mind. The fact of the matter is that these types of things, most people do not focus on until they are made to focus on them. So unless a place or someone specifically tells you that you need to look into this topic, the most people will probably not think much about it. And that is totally fine. Our lives are so busy and there is typically so much going on that there is not much time to think about this kind of stuff. However, it nevertheless is something that needs to be addressed and should become part of your beach habits. 

Beneficial Sunscreen Ingredients

While most natural and biodegradable sunscreen does contain many plant or mineral derived ingredients that are in no doubt beneficial for your body in some shape or form, there are a few ingredients in specific that are very beneficial. One of these, and is typically the active ingredient in reef safe sunscreens, is zinc oxide. Zinc Oxide is a natural occurring mineral that absorbs both UVA, which is responsible for aging and has the potential to cause cancer, and UVB, which are the solar rays that cause the burn. Now while zinc oxide is a great natural ingredient, there is a danger that can accompany it if it comes in a nano-sized form. This is because that small of a size can cause harm to your body after it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Not only that, but when it is washed off, it can also be absorbed into the bodies of invertebrates and cause damage to them as well. However, most if not all, biodegradable sunscreen brands have opted for the non-nano sized particles of zinc and other natural minerals, to avoid any potential problems. 

Another beneficial ingredient that is often included are antioxidants. Why is this? Well, no sunscreen can completely block the rays of the sun, so you're going to get some oxidative damage and free radicals bouncing around your body if you spend too much time outside. This is where antioxidants come in extremely helpful. They can easily combat that oxidative damage, being antioxidants and all. Many biodegradable sunscreen brands already include various natural and mineral based ingredients, and antioxidants are often one of them. 

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Why Is Biodegradable Sunscreen Important?

Between 4000 to 6000 tons of sunscreen washes off of swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers into coral reef environments each year. Even more sunscreen pollution can reach coastal areas because of waste water. Up to 10% of the world's coral reefs may be threatened by certain chemicals found in most sunscreens. And this is not just an international issue, this is also a national issue. Some of America's most protected coral reefs have been effected by bleaching. Scientists are warning that US reefs are on the course to largely disappear within just a few decades, partially also due to global warming, but the chemicals in sunscreen is a huge contributor to the decline of the coral reefs. 

Chemicals like Oxybenzone are a significant threat to the reefs and to marine life as well. Oxybenzone strips the reef of its nutrients and basically bleaches it of the fluorescent color we all know and love, leaving it with a sickly white color. But Oxybenzone is not just responsible for turning coral white, it can also disrupt the development and even the existence of fish and other marine life. In fact, that one chemical has contributed to at least 80% of loss of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Tourists are the main source of Oxybenzone being introduced into the oceans through sunscreen. Various studies have been conducted to see how quickly bleaching occurs. The sample coral used showed that only 0.1% of benzophenones resulted in the bleaching of the coral within 18-48 hours and complete bleaching happened within 96 hours. So fast and with such a small amount of the chemical compound. 

In an attempt to stop this, many places that are frequently visited by tourists have placed entrances with one or two employees at the entrance to supply you with biodegradable sunscreen packets. Some of these places will even ask to see your sunscreen and if it is not biodegradable, they will take it and keep it at the entrance until you leave the area. While it may be inconvenient to some people and the packets they supply you may not be strong enough to keep you from getting burned, it is still necessary to prevent any further damage coming to the reefs and marine life. 

biodegradable sunscreen

Benefit Breakdown

There are a lot of terms out there that may confuse a lot of people. Words like Non-Nano, biodegradable, reef safe, UVA and UVB, are all thrown around when it comes to sunscreen. But what do they all mean? Let's break them down and explain each one. 


Starting with UVA and UVB. Now of course the the appearance of two different types of solar rays should not be surprising to you. That is something you learn very early on. But the difference between them can be sometimes misunderstood. UVA is the most damaging one because it causes lasting damage. These rays can cause certain kinds of cancer if the effect is strong enough. Skin cancer, being the most prominent type caused by UVA rays. UVA rays are also responsible for the aging effect on your skin. You want to look young? Protect yourself from UVA rays. UVB on the other hand is the one that creates that red, annoying, vacation ruining burn on your skin. These can be very damaging as well as they can cause sun poisoning, if the burn is not treated and there is excess exposure to sunlight. So be sure that when you are choosing a sunscreen, that it protects you from both kinds of rays. 


Non-nano is something that most people are probably going to be unfamiliar about. Basically, when a mineral is in a non-nano form, there is no chance that it can be absorbed into your skin or into the surrounding environment. The reason something like zinc oxide would be damaging if it were absorbed is because it is a very hard mineral, that could cause a blockage or other damage depending on where it is absorbed. So having that mineral in a non-nano form is the ideal way to use it. 


Biodegradable is a word that is often thrown around a lot in the natural and organic world. Biodegradable means that the product is made from ingredients that not only break down on their own, but that they break down back into harmless, natural particles that can cause zero harm to the surrounding environment. Unlike chemical compounds, natural ingredients can be broken down just by being introduced to a natural solvent like water. In addition, biodegradable products also breakdown much faster and efficiently than artificial ones. 

Reef Safe

In terms of reef safe, this refers to the product being safe to be around coral reef environments. While there are many chemicals that can cause excessive damage to the reefs, like bleaching and even degrading the quality and stability of the reefs, reef safe products cause virtually no damage to their environments, or the marine life. This is highly important, as the coral reefs are in great danger of becoming extinct as it is. Any and all precautions should be taken to prevent any further damage to the reef environments. 


Biodegradable sunscreen is not just a good idea when planning to go to Mexico, Australia, or any of the other popular reef locations, most of the time, it is actually required. Plus, using biodegradable sunscreen is just a good idea to use at any beach. Any less environmental damage is better. For any other information, head on back to Green and Growing.

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Patrick Sands

Hey, I'm Pat. I am a Millersville grad with a Bachelors of Arts in English. I love to write, play video games, watch movies and TV, basically be a total nerd whenever I can. Green and Growing is important to me because it allows me to help others be as green and eco-friendly as possible. With Climate Change being what it is, it is even more important for people to get educated about their environment. This website allows me to do my part in that. Also, I'm a huge goof who tries to add some humor into anything I write. Stay Excellent out there!

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