an aerial view of a small island

Do you enjoy long walks on the beach in gorgeous white sand, with turquoise waters and vibrant coral reef nearby? You’re certainly not alone. While over tourism is a concern for many of the world’s most idyllic island ecosystems, research has shown that chemicals found in certain sunscreens pose one of the most immediate threats to reef life.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, countries began to echo calls for bans on any sunscreens containing these harmful chemicals, but with the turn of the decade now behind us, those calls are quickly now becoming law. Don’t get caught out on your next vacay…

an aerial view of a small islandThe Backstory On Harmful Sunscreen

Up to 78% of all sunscreen sold globally contains chemicals octinoxate or oxybenzone, two ingrediens which have been proven to cause irreversible damage to underwater life and coral reef ecosystems. Over tourism is an issue, but sunscreen wiping off someone and killing life below has exacerbated the effects.

Governments, cruise lines and tourism boards are each approaching the sunscreen issue differently, with proposals for everything from complimentary tubs on ships to subsidising of high end, compliant brands to make them in line with harmful options.

Palau Kicks Off 2020 Sunscreen Ban

Palau, the rock island nation near Indonesia and Papua New Guinea is the first country to enforce a ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone and other chemicals found to bleach and harm coral reef life. Certain sunscreens are now banned, including some of the most popular brands, so if you’re on your way to this diving and snorkelling haven, make sure you buy something compliant, or get one when you get there.

Future Harmful Sunscreen Bans

For islands and nations dependent on healthy marine life and aqua tourism, 2020 is a huge year as once proposed sunscreen bans become official. The US Virgin Islands will institute its own ban of sunscreens which contain harmful chemicals from March 1st, with Bonaire following in short order.

By 2021, Hawaii and Key West will also have turned words into law, and nations including Australia are currently mulling proposals to join in as well. Coral reef bleaching can kill entire ecosystems, as key nutrients disappear and marine life fail to find suitable conditions for a “home”. Obviously, if you travel to see the best of the world underwater, a dead reef with no fish isn’t ideal.


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. Perhaps listing a couple of products that are fairly accessible to readers might help. Any suggestions?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *