All through the month of April, I’ve been getting emails about products that are “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly” in preparation for Earth Day (April 22) coverage. With summer approaching, I’ve also been seeing a lot of sunscreens labeled “reef safe.” Is this just another buzz word like “natural” and “organic” that, because of loopholes, can easily be manipulated just to sell a product? Can a sunscreen really be reef safe?
The bad news is, no sunscreen is going to be 100% safe for reefs, oceans and marine life. I’m not even confident that the sunscreens deemed safe for human use are actually safe. But there are things that can be done to lessen the environmental impact of sunscreens on the marine ecosystem.
|Photo: Alicia 3690 from Pixabay
Not Tons of Fun
An estimated 6,000 - 14,000 tons of sunscreen per year washes off the skin of swimmers and water sports enthusiasts and winds up in the oceans and reefs. So using reef safe products is definitely a must.
Being called reef safe doesn’t guarantee that all ingredients are completely safe. Even “natural” sunscreen and skincare products have ingredients that overtime can cause problems. But there are things we can do to lessen their environmental impact.
1. Pick sunscreens that are formulated without oxybenzone and octinoxate. Studies have shown that these particular chemical sunscreen ingredients are detrimental to marine life. Studies have also shown that oxybenzone contributes to coral bleaching, damage to coral DNA and to zooxanthellae, photosynthetic algae that lives inside coral tissues. (More on this later.)
2. Choose a mineral sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens tend to be more irritating to the skin, in addition to having more potentially harmful ingredients. Chemical sunscreens, however, tend to give more protection from UV rays and some individuals may feel they need more protection than mineral sunscreens provide. If possible, save the mineral sunscreen for when you will be in the ocean and waterways and use chemical sunscreens to protect against sun exposure during outdoor/non-water activities.
3. Look for non nano ingredients. If you do choose a mineral sunscreen, it should contain non nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Nano particles lesser than 100 nanometers can clog coral pores. Coral provides a protective environment for the zooxanthellae living inside. Once the pores are blocked from sunlight, the algae can’t grow. All of this causes a chain reaction. Algae provides oxygen and essential nutrients to coral. When coral become stressed, they expel the algal cells, becoming white (known as coral bleaching). This can eventually result in the corals’ death.
4. Choose sunscreens without parabens, such as butylparaben — better for you and the ocean.
5. Other ingredients to avoid — homosaltate, octocrylene, 4-methybenzylidene camphor, retinyl palmitate.
6. Look for biodegradable ingredients often found in the more natural sunscreens — plant-based ingredients like aloe vera and green tea that help provide protection and will take less time to disintegrate than regular sunscreen ingredients. The longer chemicals take to disintegrate, the further damage to the environment.
7. A water-resistant sunscreen is better, since less of the ingredients will wash off into the ocean.
8. Use UPF-rated clothing. It's not always an option, but whenever possible, cover more of your body with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing. You'll have less skin exposed and therefore will need less sunscreen.
Love Sun Body sunscreens have non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide (depending on the SPF level) and natural, food-grade ingredients — no parabens, synthetic perfumes, dyes, GMO, animal-derived ingredients. The sunscreens also meet both U.S. and European regulatory requirements and are the first and only sunscreens in the U.S. certified by Ecocert Cosmos Natural (the international standard for organic and natural cosmetics and skincare products.) Love Sun Body also received a best score of 1 (out of 10) rating by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The formulas are also water and sweat-resistant up to 80 minutes.
MyChelle sunscreens, including Sun Shield Clear Spray SPF 30 and Sun Shield Liquid SPF 50 (Non-Tinted) provide broad spectrum protection (non nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide) with reef friendly ingredients. The sunscreen is formulated without phthalates, parabens, sulfates, artificial fragrances and colors, and GMOs.