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Headed for the Tropics? Be Sure Your Sunscreen Isn’t Banned

woman applying sunblock on beach
Written by Shannon Durso

This blog post was updated on August 4, 2022.


Ever wonder what happens to your sunscreen when you jump into the ocean? Have you seen a slimy film coating the surface of the water around your body after you dunk into the water? Well, chances are, that slimy coating contains chemicals that are harmful to marine life. As a result, many popular tourist destinations have enacted bans on certain sunscreen brands.

Truth is, all that sunblock that you diligently apply to protect your skin often sheds in the water, especially when it’s not completely absorbed into your skin. The product that floats to the surface will eventually sink deep into the ocean, landing on coral reefs—depending on where you are—and marine life.

Of course, applying SPF is very important when you’re sunbathing and become exposed to the sun, so we’re not suggesting you avoid lathering up in sunblock. But you want to be sure to check the label to make sure that your sunscreen of choice doesn’t contain either oxybenzone or octinoxate, or any of a growing list of banned chemicals. Instead, look for sunscreen that contains biodegradable ingredients, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

What follows is a sampling of popular destinations that have enacted bans on harmful sunscreen chemicals. Be sure to check this light before you book those cheap flights in September.

Key West, Florida

snorkeling in Key West, Florida

Just about 90 miles north of Cuba is Florida’s southernmost point, Key West, which is part of the Florida Keys archipelago. Chosen home of wide variety of famous folk, including Ernest Hemingway, Judy Blume,  Jimmy Buffet, and Tennessee Williams, Key West is also known for its coral reefs, the largest living coral reef in the continental United States. This beautiful island city banned the sale of harmful sunscreens in 2021, partly because these sunscreens were drying out the island’s precious coral.

Hawaii

woman sitting on surfboard in the ocean on Hawaii

From Oahu to Maui and beyond, Hawaii is undoubtedly a breathtaking island destination. Life under the sea in here is even more beautiful and precious. The seals, the turtles, the manta rays, the humpback whales, the bottlenose dolphins. Plus, Hawaii boasts 85% of the coral reefs in America. With an abundance of tourists and locals catching waves and hitting the beach, the state decided to enact its own sunscreen ban in 2021. The ban, however, doesn’t apply to people using a specific sunscreen for medical purposes.

Bonaire

sea turtle next to coral reef

If you ever find yourself traveling to Bonaire, located off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean, be aware that oiling up in any harmful sun lotions was prohibited as of 2021. Bonaire is a reef-lined coast with a teeming population of glorious marine life. The Caribbean Sea has seen an increase the death of  coral reefs since 1980 caused by toxic pollution, much of which arose from harsh chemicals in commonly used sunscreens.

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Palau

diving in Palau along coral reefs

Palau is widely known as a scuba diver’s paradise. The country is located in the western Pacific Ocean, part of Oceania. It’s an archipelago of more than 340 islands and was the first country to ban nonbiodegradable sunscreen in 2020. In fact, a fine of up to $1,000 will be issued to businesses who sell harmful sun products. This country wishes to enforce a strict ban for both tourists and locals, encouraging them to only use safe sunscreens to protect the coral reefs and marine life.

Mexico

swimming in cenote in Mexico

Although the ban isn’t country-wide, more and more locations in Mexico are starting to ban non-biodegradable sunscreen ingredients. Visitors to Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, and other popular spots in Mexico where tourists tend to flock should opt for safe natural sunscreens before entering the beach and ocean. Also, popular attractions like Xel Ha, Xcaret Park, Garrafon National Park are requiring visitors to stick to using natural sunscreens when entering natural waters and swimming with marine animals.

UPDATE: After this article was written, both Aruba and the U.S. Virgin Islands joined the ranks of locations that ban harmful sunscreens, and additional locations are considering similar bans. Bottom line: if you’re booking international flights and are headed someplace tropical, it’s worth your time to do a quick Google search to see if the local rules have changed. 

Know of any other destinations that are requiring visitors to use biodegradable sunscreens only? Tell us in the comments below! 

About the author

Shannon Durso

If she’s not searching for the world's coolest destinations she has yet to explore, you can find her writing content at Fareportal or maybe even drooling over a foodies latest post. Shannon’s a Brooklyn native who enjoys good company, new adventures, and a great laugh!

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