Most of us love our trips to the beach, snorkeling or diving in the crystal blue waters of the Florida Keys or the Caribbean. Many of us grew up enthralled by the amazing beauty and diversity of our planet’s oceans, as filmed in Jaques Cousteau’s famous documentary undersea adventures series. The scope of marine life & stunning otherworldly topography brought us all to a greater appreciation of the wonders of 2/3rds of the Earths surface.
What most of us are not yet aware of is the serious and immediate threat our oceans and marine life are under right now due to unintentional interference from humankind.
As the dangers of excess UV radiation have been preached to us all in the past few decades, the use of chemical based sunscreens commonly found at your local grocery or drugstore has risen to unprecedented levels, posing a serious threat to our planet’s ocean reefs.
Why have ‘Reef toxic Sunscreens’ become a concern?
Disturbance of the Marine Ecosystems
Besides climate change and pollution, chemical based sunscreens pose one of the biggest threats to our ocean’s coral reefs world wide. Nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen are washed into the oceans every year, which not only poisons the delicate coral ecosystem, but also enter the marine food chain and impact water cycles. (For further reading, we highly suggest Googling “Top 25 Coral Reef Facts” @ Conserve-.Future).
Chemicals (Benzones) in sunscreen cause a phenomenon called ‘coral bleaching’ which is making these beautiful reefs die off. This author has personally witnessed the devastation to our only underwater national park at Buck Island in the US Virgin islands over the past 20 years. These once vibrantly colorful and brilliantly diverse coral structures 20 years later appear as mostly lifeless blue-grey skeletons. This is truly scary and something we should all be aware of. These reefs host a myriad of sea life and provide food sources and oxygenation to our seas and our planet at large.
Did you know? More than 90% of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia (the largest coral reef encompassing over 900 sub-reefs in the world) has been affected, with more than 50% of it dying since 2016.
How these Chemical Sunsceens affect Humans:
If these chemicals can cause bleaching and mass destruction in the environment, to what extent can they damage our organs and even mutate our DNA? Oxybenzones in sunscreens are well-known endocrine disruptors, which in women can cause reproductive issues and an increased risk of endometriosis.
In men, evidence is mounting that testosterone levels, as well as sperm production and motility is negatively affected due to exposure to these chemicals. In studies, these chemical UV filters were found in more than 95% of urine samples tested as part of trials in the United States, Spain, France and Denmark In the short term, these same chemicals can disrupt hormonal cycles leading to acne, hyperpigmentation, allergies and other dermal issues.
Further, when benzones interact with chlorine and UV radiation, they produce compounds such as acetyl benzenes and phenols..thus increasing their toxicity (and carcinogenic potential) exponentially.
Are you reading the labels?
Most sunscreens (even some that claim to be natural) contain non-biodegradable chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to humans. These chemicals are introduced into water ways via swimming or showering, and travel through storm drains into sewage systems and thus make their way into our oceans.
The primary chemicals to avoid in sunscreens: Oxybenzones, Avobenzone, Homosalate, Triclosan, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Butylyparabens, Nanoparticles among others. This topic is too complex to go into any great detail here, but don’t take our word.. Do some research on your own if this concerns you (as it should)!
Did you know? In May 2018, Hawaii became the first state to outlaw the sale and use of reef-toxic sunscreens. And, Key West just passed a resolution to do the same a few weeks ago. It is likely that California, Texas and many other coastal states will adopt the same policy as awareness of this situation grows.
Now that you know, isn’t it time to start making better choices for yourself, your family and the planet?
How to choose a ‘Reef Safe’ Sunscreen:
By educating yourself on ingredients, you can protect your skin as well as the environment.
- Mineral-based, Micronized Zinc Oxide (ZnO) and/or Titanium Dioxide (TiO2).
- No Nano-particles (means the ingredients used should be micronized no less than 100 nanometres in diameter). Simply put, look for ‘No Nano-particles’. Zinc Oxide is notoriously hard to rub on..think Desitin Diaper cream or the old style lifeguard facial stripes. It was discovered that micronized particles can make the process easier. Unfortunately some companies went too far and made their particles small enough to be literally clear vs. Opaque (ZinClear is the ingredient to avoid) creating ‘nano-particles’ that can enter the bloodstream via the skin, which has been deemed to be potentially carcinogenic.
- Free from chemicals, especially, Oxybenzones and PABA.
- In the form of lotion or balm (for minimal application and even coverage). (Sprays/aerosols are also responsible for air pollution and destruction of the ozone layer)
- Even the inactive ingredients (such as preservatives, colors, fragrances and emulsifiers) in the sunscreen should be natural/organic.
- Should be Child-safe (as children’s skin is more permeable and thus more vulnerable to toxins and nano-particle absorption.
Did you know? The AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) recommends ONLY zinc/titanium oxide based sunscreens for infants, toddlers and children.
Mineral-based sunscreen are literally physical blockers unlike cheap chemical-based sunscreens. Instead of being absorbed into your skin, these mineralize particles work as a network of tiny mirrors that lie on top of your skin, reflecting UV rays away..keeping them from burning you.
‘Full-Spectrum’ is an important designation or factor in your Sunscreen, meaning protection from both UV A & B rays. Chemical ingredients need to be combined (making them even worse in the way of toxic load) in order to provide full spectrum protection. On the contrary, mineral sunscreens single-handedly provide protection against both UVA (responsible for sunburns) and UVB (which penetrates deeper into your skin and is thought to be a greater risk for skin cancer).
We hope this article has opened your eyes, if you were not aware of this serious problem. The next time you plan a trip to the pool, or beach, remember to plan ahead with a Skin and Environmentally safe sunscreen, such as our Award Winning 100% natural and reef-safe Sun Protect SPF 30+ (EWG approved). Since we micronize our zinc particles, (but not too far!) our formula will not leave an unpleasant white sheen, and is easily applied, even to squirmy kids! However, it has good staying power and effectively shields you from both UVA and UVB rays (broad spectrum) protecting against skin cancer, hyperpigmentation and the other detrimental signs of photo-aging.