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What Ingredients are Biodegradable?

Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide Information

It is easy to tell if your favorite sunscreen brand is coral-safe, just look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients on the label. These ingredients are not harmful to coral, unlike chemical sunscreens with ingredients like parabens, cinnamate and benzophenone. Ingredients like this are not only linked to killing coral, but chemical sunscreens can also be harmful to humans. Mineral and biodegradable sunscreens are a win-win.

Our biodegradable sunscreens are safe for the oceans, reefs, and coral. We use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are mineral ingredients that have not been found to harm coral. They are water-resistant so they will not wash off in the water for 40 minutes, and once the water-resistance wears off, the ingredients that may enter the water will not harm the reefs.

Coral Safe sunscreen lotions contain Z-Cote and T-Lite, which are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide products in very fine-powdered form manufactured by BASF. These micronized ingredients serve as a physical barrier that actually reflects the damaging UVB and UVA rays before they reach the living tissues in your skin. Coral Safe mineral sunblocks are more effective and safer to make and use than chemical sunscreens, which have been shown to interfere with the body’s hormonal systems.

These ingredients have a variable particle size in the mean and median range of 100-200nm. This allows our sunscreen lotions to be more cosmetically appealing compared to coarser particles. The protection is less visible, yet remains on the skin's surface. Depending on the particle size, a micronized pigment may or may not be considered a nanoparticle. A nanoparticle is a particle with one or more size dimensions less than 100nm. Very-well intentioned consumer groups have recently raised the controversy regarding nanoparticles posing many "what if" scenarios regarding uncertain possible negative effects on human health, primarily relating to the outer dead layer of the skin.

Nanoparticles and micronized particles are not new to the sunscreen and cosmetics industry. The micronized pigments are common ultraviolet light (UV) filtered ingredients and have been used safely for more than a decade in a variety of applications. In particular, products offering high protection levels can only be formulated effectively using these products. A number of authorities and committees have evaluated the available data on the safety of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreens in recent years and widely they came to similar conclusions:


The FDA's position is that sunscreens containing these ingredients are safe and help protect the skin from cancer. Recently, a Task Force within FDA concluded that although micronized materials may have different properties from the larger size of the same substance, there is no evidence that they present greater safety concerns than their bigger counterparts and, therefore, no special regulations or labeling is required based on current science.


In April 2005, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin approved the use of the two UV filter pigments in sunscreens without any reservations. The safety of the microfine filter pigments was confirmed regarding possible dermal intake. On the risk issue the experts came to the conclusion that, at the present time, there are no indications of a specific "nano-toxicology".


The Therapueutic Goods Administration of Australia completed in 2006 a review of the use of nanoparticles (or micronized) of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in sunscreens and concluded that the weight of current evidence is that these materials remain on the surface of the skin in the outer dead layer.

European Union

In December 2007 the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products in the EU adopted a report on the safety of nanomaterials in consumer products. The report, which was made public in March 2008 widely confirms the value of nano-sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as UV filters in sunscreens. In addition, some further tests are suggested to confirm that these materials are not able to penetrate even diseased or compromised skin. While these studies may help to remove any uncertainties about dermal penetration, even through compromised skin, the importance of this information for sunscreen applications is questionable. Data from recent studies with systemic administration of titanium dioxide nanoparticles suggest that even following administration of high dose levels of titanium dioxide, there would be no adverse effects. So, if low amounts are absorbed by the skin it is unlikely that these small amounts would result in any significant health hazard. In addition, published data with pharmaceutical compounds do not indicate that nanoparticles would penetrate compromised skin more easily than intact skin.


BASF is the leading supplier for zinc oxide (under the trade name Z-Cote) and an important supplier for titanium dioxide (which is marketed as T-Lite) to manufacturers of sunscreens and cosmetics. Following the principles of Reasonable Care, BASF has published the results of its own toxicological study titled "The in-vitro absorption of microfine zinc oxide and titanium dioxide through porcine skin" that shows that neither zinc or titanium ions nor microfine zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles were able to penetrate pig skin. The pig is the species of choice because its skin is similar to that of humans and its use in skin absorption studies has been validated by the scientific community. Together with data from several other studies there is sound evidence that microfine particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do not penetrate through intact skin to reach viable tissues.

A potentially greater risk of skin damage, even skin cancer would be the results of unprotected exposure to sun irradiation. The best protection from the sun is to stay in the shade or wear protective clothing and a hat, but if you’re going to be in the sun you should protect your skin, and a mineral-based sunblock such as Coral Safe is the safest and most effective approach.