Is your sunscreen safe for the environment? Coral Reefs are extremely fragile and are host to an abundance of sealife. Sadly, they are in peril worldwide. Ingredients in many sunscreens are a large contributing factor.
Most of us have given little thought to the sunscreens we use. My primary concern has always been the SPF (Sun Protective Factor). I never considered what ingredients make sunscreen effective, nor if it was safe for the environment. Is your sunscreen contributing to the problem? So what makes your typical sunscreen harmful to marine life anyway?
Many Sunscreens use the UV filter ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have a harmful effect on the world’s ocean reefs and other marine life. According to SaveTheReef.org scientists have estimated that14,000 tons of sunscreen are deposited into our oceans and reefs every year! Pollution, climate change and other environmental factors also play a significant role in the overall health of the oceans and seas. These chemicals damage coral by interfering with reproduction, cause deformities and growth anomalies, disrupts growth and reproduction, and make coral susceptible to bleaching. In July of 2018, the first U.S. state to ban the sale and use of all sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate was Hawaii. Key West, Florida followed suit in 2021.
So how do you avoid a sunburn while sun worshipping without causing more harm to the environment? For starters, if you are planning on being outside all day or in and out of the water, not only should you wear safe sunscreen, it is highly suggested to wear UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing. A T-shirt can provide adequate protection as well. Affordable UPF clothing is available at these retailers:
Can’t afford UPF clothing for extra protection, or does the thought of adding an extra layer (T-shirt over your bathing suit) in the already stifling heat leave you running for the air conditioning? Don’t fret, there are plenty of safe sunscreen options!
Although there are several sunscreens that boast “reef-friendly” the term is not regulated so you can’t rely on just a label. It’s critical to check the “active ingredient” label on the sunscreen to ensure that it does not contain reef-damaging chemicals. Also avoid sunscreens that contain nanoparticles and any type of microplastic such as “exfoliating beads”, as these tiny particles can be toxic in large concentrations. Best to use micro-sized (or non-nano) mineral sunscreens. Use lotion rather than spray as the spray can be harmful to your health if inhaled, particularly if it contains titanium dioxide.
Avoid all sunscreens that contain the following:
So now you know what to look for when choosing an environmentally sunscreen. My top picks for “Reef Friendly” sunscreen: