Protecting Our Oceans: Why You Should Skip Sunscreen While Snorkeling and Swimming

by | Jul 11, 2024 | Environmental Awareness, Riviera Maya Flora & Fauna

As we bask in the beauty of the world’s oceans and take part in activities like snorkeling and swimming, it’s essential to remember that our actions have a direct impact on the delicate marine ecosystems we cherish. While sunscreen is vital for protecting our skin from harmful UV rays, many of the chemicals found in these products can be detrimental to marine life. Even biodegradable sunscreens, although less harmful, are not entirely safe. Instead, visitors should opt for physical protection methods like long sleeves, caps, and shawls. Here’s why you should reconsider your sunscreen habits and how you can better protect both yourself and our oceans.

The Hidden Dangers of Sunscreen

Chemical Contaminants

Many sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate, which are harmful to marine life. These substances can cause significant damage to coral reefs, leading to coral bleaching, DNA damage, and even death. When sunscreen washes off in the ocean, it introduces these chemicals into the water, affecting not just coral but also fish, sea turtles, and other marine organisms.

Biodegradable Sunscreens: Not a Perfect Solution

While biodegradable and reef-safe sunscreens are marketed as safer alternatives, they are not entirely free of risks. Some ingredients in these products can still cause harm when they accumulate in the marine environment. The term “biodegradable” simply means the product will break down over time, but it doesn’t guarantee that the breakdown products are harmless to marine life.

Physical Sun Protection: A Safer Alternative

To minimize your impact on marine ecosystems, consider using physical barriers to protect your skin from the sun. These methods are not only effective but also environmentally friendly.

Long-Sleeve Rash Guards

Rash guards or long-sleeve swim shirts made of UV-protective fabric provide excellent sun protection without the need for sunscreen. These garments are designed to block harmful UV rays while allowing you to stay comfortable and active in the water.

Wide-Brimmed Hats and Caps

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat or cap can protect your face, neck, and shoulders from the sun’s rays. These accessories are especially useful when you’re on a boat or walking along the shore, reducing the need for sunscreen on your upper body.

UV-Protective Swim Leggings

Similar to rash guards, UV-protective swim leggings offer full coverage for your legs, protecting your skin from the sun without the need for chemical sunscreens. These leggings are ideal for activities like snorkeling, swimming, and other water sports.


Protecting your eyes from UV rays is just as important as protecting your skin. Polarized sunglasses can reduce glare from the water and provide excellent UV protection, ensuring you can enjoy the beauty of the ocean without compromising your eye health.

The Importance of Marine Conservation

By choosing physical sun protection methods over chemical sunscreens, you contribute to the health and sustainability of marine ecosystems. Coral reefs, often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” are home to a diverse array of marine life and play a crucial role in maintaining ocean health. Protecting these ecosystems ensures that they can continue to provide habitat, food, and protection for countless species.

Tips for Eco-Friendly Ocean Enjoyment

  • Choose Reef-Safe Gear: When purchasing sun protection clothing, look for items specifically designed for UV protection and labeled as reef-safe.
  • Rinse Off Before Entering the Water: If you’ve applied any products to your skin, rinse off thoroughly before entering the ocean to minimize chemical contamination.
  • Educate Others: Spread awareness about the impact of sunscreens on marine life and encourage others to adopt eco-friendly sun protection practices.
  • Support Marine Conservation Efforts: Participate in or donate to organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving marine ecosystems.


Our oceans are a treasure trove of biodiversity and natural beauty, and it’s our responsibility to protect them. By refraining from using sunscreens while snorkeling and swimming, and instead opting for physical sun protection methods like long sleeves, caps, and shawls, we can enjoy the ocean safely without harming its delicate ecosystems. Let’s take these small but significant steps to ensure that future generations can continue to marvel at the wonders of the marine world.

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