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Reef Safe Testing Conclusions

The World’s First Scientifically Substantiated Suncare 

Biodegradability Test Conclusions in Sea & Fresh Water

At Tropical Seas we care about your skin protection as well as our environment’s fragile ecosystems. We scientifically back up our products marketing claims, and have all of our complete assays and test data, including references and protocols on file in our corporate offices. Additionally, we post our scientific test summaries on our web site for our customers benefit.

Once our products have passed The Food & Drug Administration’s standards, we then submit our formulas to an independent ecology laboratory for further testing. By submitting our formulas for ecology testing, we learn not only their degree of biodegradability, but also their toxicity to sea life. The results below prove that our products biodegrade in oceans, lakes and rivers AND are non-toxic to sea life, including Atlantic and Pacific corals.

If you are serious about protecting our planet’s sensitive ecosystems, ask your current suncare company to prove their “claim” of being “Eco-friendly”, “Biodegradable” and/or “Natural” with scientific test results.   Most likely they don’t have any data since most companies do not scientifically test their products before marketing claims are created. Also make sure they are using globally acceptable test methods, and refer to the test methods that we use to confirm. After all there are no regulations on marketing claims, anyone can say their product does just about anything these days. We strive to do better by our customers and our environment, by scientifically proving our claims.


  • Establish scientific data to support & authenticate Reef Safe Suncare by Tropical Seas is biodegradable in fresh and salt water, non-toxic to sea & marine life, including corals.


All testing for Reef Safe Suncare SPF claims - water resistance, biodegradability, toxicity to sea & marine life, including corals studies, were performed and confirmed by outside Independent Laboratories using globally accepted test methods (except for corals, as there are none).


  • Water Sample #1: Collected from the Pacific Ocean at a sandy beach surf zone, near latitude 45.613˚N, longitude 123.943˚W. Sample reflects an environment typically used for recreational purposes, and was not found near any municipal out falls or river mouths, deeming our sample representative of seawater you would want to swim in. This means the test sample contains fewer bacteria that aid in biodegradation than those found near municipal out falls and river mouths.
  • Water Sample #2: Collected from the mouth of Yaquina Bay, at a rocky jetty site, near latitude 44.637˚N longitude 124.052˚W, was chosen to reflect a greater loading of microorganisms in seawater due to proximity to Yaquina River and the City of Newport.
  • Water Sample #3: Collected from the Columbia River at Rock Creek, Mosier, Oregon, near latitude 45.687260˚N longitude 121.404527˚W, which is a popular freshwater beach site typically used for recreation and other activities. This means the test sample is taken from water you would want to swim in.
  • As stated by the Ecology Laboratory summary conclusion, “Average initial degradation rate was 2.7% per day with a plateau at the end of the test period to 1.7% per day”. This means that our products initially started out at 2.7% biodegradability, then gradually slowed down and leveled off at 1.7% per day.
  • Our products biodegrade on average in less than 90 days in seawater & freshwater based upon the OECD 306 and OECD 301D Test methods.
  • Products are non-toxic to sea life, as there was no evidence of any toxicity of the product to microorganisms in either sea or fresh water.
  • Results may be up to 33% slower in a laboratory testing environment, since actual concentrations of sunscreen lotion and the bioavailability of inorganic nutrients would be much lower than in any realistic marine environment; thus making the lab rate slower.
  • Conclusion: Based upon laboratory findings, 99% of Reef Safe suncare products break down (biodegrade) in both sea and fresh waters on average in less than 90 days; the remaining 1% is the ash content of the lotion, which is considered non-biodegradable. This meets the OECD definition of “biodegradable in sea & fresh water”.


Our products stay on your skin, not in our oceans; the small percentage that does wash off biodegrades on average in less than 90 days and is non-toxic to sea life. To substantiate these claims, our products were tested in an Independent Ecology Laboratory according to current OECD Protocol 306 and OECD 301D guidelines. In view of the fact that consumers swim in oceans, lakes and rivers and not in sewage water, we opted to distinguish ourselves from the masses, by replacing the industry’s principle test standard of sewage water with water typical of recreational beaches; thus obtaining a more accurate timeline for biodegradation than if we had just used the principle test standard, which enhances the biodegradation process and as a result, misleads the consumer.


In an independent accredited laboratory using EPA toxicity testing methods, Reef Safe was proven to be non-toxic to sea life.


In 2008, Tropical Seas conducted the OECD 203 Acute Toxicity Test on Chrysiptera Cyanea (common name includes blue damselfish), a species of damselfish native to the Indian and Western Pacific Ocean. The damsels were observed for 96 hours during which time the fish exhibited no signs of abnormality or mortality.

Further testing was performed in March 2010, to authenticate Reef Safe Suncare by Tropical Seas claim that our lotions would not kill baitfish. An independent lab utilized the OECD 203 Acute Toxicity Test to measure the effects on the survival of aquatic organisms in a limit test, wherein if no ill effects occurred at a preselected maximum dose and timeline, than no further testing at a greater exposure level would be required. For analysis, the specific quantity of Reef Safe products were dispensed, and the fatheaded minnows (Pimephales promelas) were observed for 96 hours, during which time the fish exhibited no signs of mortality or abnormality compared to that of the control and exposure tanks. This would be the equivalent of an entire 4 oz. bottle of Reef Safe SPF 45 spilling into a live well, resulting in absolutely no harm to the fish. In conclusion, this limit test greatly exceeds the concentrations anticipated in the environment from casual use and almost certainly that of any accidental spills of Reef Safe Suncare products.


Fact: There are no globally accepted test methods for testing sunscreen products on corals or coral larvae. With that being said, in 2008 Tropical Seas / Reef Safe contracted a marine biologist to help research and write our protocols, and to assist us with our coral fragment flow through experiment that was conducted in our facility.

Purpose: This experiment was conducted solely to prove to us that Reef Safe sunscreens did not harm corals, and to backup Reef Safe’s marketing claims.

Experiment: Pacific corals were chosen for this test, and purchased through a licensed seller. Reef Safe’s formula Expected Environmental Concentration (EEC) for 20 snorkelers swimming on a reef with an average depth of 16 feet by an area 100 feet square was calculated, and added to the tank daily for a period of 80 minutes to simulate the snorkelers time in the water. This was repeated for 30 continuous days.

Results: Coral health was evaluated using established Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC) coral health method. At the end of the 30-day test period, corals showed no ill effects, and no signs of stress or bleaching were observed on any corals. There was no weight loss based upon the original buoyant weights, and no mortality.

Summary: Reef Safe formulas do not harm tested corals.


Introduction: Coral reefs have been under stress from multiple factors over the last 3 decades. Efforts have been made to identify the threats and lower the impacts. One such area of concern that has been debated recently is the affects of sunscreens or their compounds on the health of corals. Various tests have shown varying results. This test is to compare one brand of sunscreen, Reef Safe (RS) with two Atlantic hard corals for potential toxicity of the product or from its active ingredients. See list and percentages below.

Purpose: To have Reef Safe formulas tested in an independent laboratory (Mote Marine Tropical Research Lab) to scientifically substantiate that Reef Safe sunscreens do not harm corals. The experiment will test Reef Safe formulas with oxybenzone at 4%, with oxybenzone at 6%, and with oxybenzone at 6% administered at 30 times the EEC. If the tests show no observable differences, then it will be continued for another 48-hours to provide a 96-hour LC50 test. This will be continued for additional continuous 96-hour test periods until the experiment is terminated.

Methods: Two species of hard corals were chosen because of their presence in inshore and offshore habitats and forms. The offshore, massive coral, Orbicella faveolata, (O. fav), (mountainous star coral), was chosen as a reef building coral. The inshore, branching coral, Porites, (P. por), (finger coral), was chosen as a representative of shallow inshore coral. Coral were fragmented into: 100 O. fav and 100 P. por fragments and attached to ceramic bases for ease of handling. Each of them was distributed equally between 20 tanks with 5 of each species in a given 20-liter aquarium. The corals are healed over and acclimated for two weeks prior to the start of the experiment. All tanks were placed into our temperature controlled raceway and supplied filtered seawater at a temperature of 27 °C under natural light conditions.

Materials and Methods: Raceways were set up with a total of 20 5-gallon tanks each randomly labeled either A, B, C, D, or E for the five treatments. Each tank contained 5 individuals of each species, O. fav and P. por. All tanks shared the same seawater with flow rates of 150 ml/min and temperature of 27C to negate any variation that may affect coral growth. Before starting the experiment each fragment was visually inspected to assess for health or mortality, to be compared up to 20-days or the completion of the experiment. Corals were visually assessed using coral health established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Each day before the sunscreen was added, a condition survey was completed to note if corals were showing signs of stress. Corals were ranked on a scale of 1-6 for condition (tissue loss) and color (signs of bleaching) taken from Monitoring Data Collections guidelines by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Health Monitoring Protocols. The corals were assessed using the following scoring conditions: 

  1. No live tissue
  2. <25% live tissue
  3. 25-50% live tissue
  4. 50-75% live tissue
  5. 75-95% live tissue
  6. No apparent loss

Twice a day (10 AM and 2 PM) the tanks were dosed into the corresponding research tanks for 60 minutes. During the 1-hour treatment all external water flow to all tanks was stopped, but continuing to allow the power head to circulate water through the tank and corals. After the 1-hour treatment period, water flows were returned to normal allowing for a gradual delusion of the tank water with new water.

Experiment: Reef Safe formula Expected Environmental Concentration (EEC) for 100 snorkelers swimming on a reef with an average depth of 16 feet by an area of 250 feet square was calculated, and added to the tank twice daily at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM for a period of 60 minutes to simulate the snorkelers time in the water. This was repeated for 20 continuous days.

Formulas tested were Reef Safe SPF50, SPF45, SPF30 (oxybenzone free), and BLANK. The percentages of sunscreen actives in the formulas were combinations, and maxed out to the highest percentages allowable per current FDA guidelines. The combinations are viewable at www.tropicalseas.com by SPF product:

  • 5% Octinoxate
  • 5.0% Octisalate
  • 6.0% Oxybenzone
  • 10.0% Homosalate (Based upon international use level)
  • 10.0% Octocrylene
  • 3.0% Avobenzone

 In addition the following preservative system was used in all formulas:

  • 0.25% Methylparaben
  • 0.10% Propylparaben
  • 0.30% Diazolidinyl urea

DISCUSSIONS: This experimental test of Reef Safe sunscreen treatments on coral mortality showed no loss of corals during a 48-hour, 96-hour and 20-day.

This experiment, unlike many others used sunscreen levels calculated during high usage diving events over coral reefs, similar to conditions on heavily utilized coral reef dive sites.

The test condition simulated normal sunscreen applications to a surface (simulating human skin), and did not use any solvents or dispersants to force the products into artificial solutions.

By also testing sunscreen levels at many times above normal sunscreen levels in the water, this experiment with Reef Safe products, showed no visual impacts or mortality on two representative species of live corals during tests of 48-hour, 96-hour or 20-day duration. This was also the case for comparison to a formula without oxybenzone, a control with no sunscreens, and at levels 4, 6 and 30 times the normal Expected Environmental Concentration (EEC) level. Chemical analysis of concentrations of oxybenzone in the water showed that these product formulas had less percent dispersion, due to the limited solubility of the Reef Safe sunscreen oil molecule (that contained the oxybenzone) in water.

This experiment showed no mortality, no signs of stress nor bleaching using any of the Reef Safe formulas or concentrations on two species of Atlantic corals for both acute (48-hour and 96-hour LC50) or chronic 20 day duration.

Summary: Reef Safe formulas are proven non-toxic to tested corals.

 "All sunscreens are not alike, and to single one compound in the ingredients and make a blanket ruling is not proper. We found ReefSafe to be a coral safe product". -Dr. David Vaughan is the Executive Director, Mote Marine Tropical Laboratory, Summerland Key Campus, Mote's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration in Summerland Key, Florida. He is also the manager of the Coral Restoration program and manages the Protect Our Reef Grants program.


To further our claim, we outsourced an additional independent laboratory to validate the percentage of water and rub resistance of our products, using protocol: “Final Monograph; “Sunscreen Drug Products For Over-The-Counter Human Use”, Final Rule, 21 CFR Part 352, Subpart D (Federal Register / Vol. 64, No. 98 / Friday May 21, 1999, Proposed Amendment; Docket number 78N-0038/CP12, June 21, 1999). Testing concluded that our sun protection products are 97% water resistant after 80 minutes of activity in water, as well as over 100% rub resistant, meaning that when the skin is rubbed by anything including a towel when drying off, the lotion does not come off. We recommend that you apply 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow lotion to form a breathable film on your skin, and then re-apply every 80 minutes to 2 hours to ensure adequate sun protection throughout your time in the sun. Reef Safe washes off with soap and water.

The chart below substantiates our claims and the Independent laboratory testing confirms them.

Skin Type, Sunburn & Tanning History SPF R.S. Product Static SPF Water Resistant SPF
Skin Type 1: Always burns easily; rarely tans (very sensitive) 30 to < 50 SPF 50+ Reef Babies 59.46 53.62
SPF 50+ Higher UVA 59.46 53.62
SPF 45+ Original 47.10 46.05
SPF 45+ Spray 55.48 48.38
SPF 40+ Reef Kids 46.00 44.65
SPF 40+ Higher UVA 46.00 44.65
SPF 36+ Off Shore 39.48 37.68
SPF 30+ Reef Kids 36.33 33.41
SPF 30+ Higher UVA 36.33 33.41
SPF 30+ Original 33.01 31.66
SPF 30+ Reef Kids Spray 37.56 33.60
SPF 30+ Spray 37.56 33.60
Skin Type 2: Always burns easily; tans minimally (sensitive) 12 to < 29 SPF 20+ Higher UVA 22.46 20.69
SPF 15+ Original 16.82 16.12
SPF 15+ Spray 19.44 17.40
Skin Type 3: Burns moderately; tans gradually (low sensitivity) 8 to < 12 SPF 8+ Lotion 8.69 8.69
SPF 8+ Oil 10.30 9.75
Skin Type 4: Burns minimally; always tans well (not sensitive) 4 to < 8 SPF 4+ Lotion 4.81 4.81
Skin Type 5: Rarely burns; tans profusely (not sensitive) 2 to < 4 SPF 4+ Oil 5.17 5.17
Lip Balm: For all skin types; lips do not produce melanin = no rating to skin type 30+ SPF 30+ Unflavored 31.74 30.42

SPF lotions ranging from an SPF 50 to SPF 15 are fragrances free for sensitive skin, SPF 8 & SPF 4 lotions and SPF 45 to SPF 15 sprays have our “Original” tropical coconut fragrance, and our backcountry has a natural citronella fragrance.

Reef Babies & Reef Kids is Pediatrician Approved / Hypoallergenic 

Testing was performed in May 2010, to scientifically authenticate Tropical Seas claim that Reef Babies and Reef Kids products are gentle to a child’s sensitive skin. Tests were supervised, reviewed and approved by a Pediatrician, confirming that both Reef Babies and Reef Kids products are hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin. 

Reef Safe™ by Tropical Seas ® Sun & Skin Care Products have been formulated with state of the art ingredients to perform at their peak in our oceans, lakes & rivers of the world, making our products safe for you and our environment.