EDIT: The cool thing about science is as time goes on, new discoveries are made! Since I made this post and infographic, some new information has been discovered that says that Reef Safe Sunscreen doesn’t really matter. Here are two really good articles about it if you’d like to learn more: There’s Insufficient Evidence Your Sunscreen Harms Coral Reefs and Data Doesn’t Back Sunscreen Bans. I don’t want to just delete this, but add an update which is that the best thing you can always do for our oceans is VOTE!
Most people like spending time in the sun during the summer, and they don’t like getting burned. But did you know there are tons of hidden hazards lurking in everyday sunscreen?
1. Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Sunscreen comes in 2 types: Mineral (Physical) and Chemical.
Mineral Sunscreen is made out of naturally occuring minerals like Zinc and Titanium Oxides. Mineral Sunscreen reflects harmful UV rays and protects skin naturally.
Chemical Sunscreen is made out of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxat (alone, or a combination of several of these). Chemical Sunscreen is absorbed by skin. Most sunscreens (roughly 70%) on the market today are Chemical Sunscreens.
There are a few sunscreens on the market that mix both mineral and chemical sunscreens.
2. Hormone disrupters in chemical sunscreens
Oxybenzone is the #1 chemical found in most chemical sunscreens. Oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen. In 2008, the CDC found Oxybenzone in 96% of Americans. Other chemicals to avoid are: octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, avobenzone, and octinoxate.
3. Sunscreen is Destroying Our Coral Reefs
Chemical Sunscreen is destroying our coral reefs. A single drop of chemical sunscreen can kill a coral reef, yet the world is pumping roughly 14,000 tons a year into our ocean ecosystem. The chemicals in sunscreen rob sunscreen of its life-giving nutrients and turn it white, this is called coral bleaching.
4. No beaches? No excuses.
You don’t have to be on the beach in Florida or surfing in Hawaii to have your sunscreen affect the ocean… even inland outdoor adventurers in Colorado and Iowa are affecting coral reefs. By simply washing the sunscreen down the drain after a day’s worth of play, the chemical filled water is making its way through waterways to the ocean. Many things humans do inland affect our ocean without us even thinking about it.
5. So what Sunscreens should we use!?
To find out of sunscreen is mineral or chemical look in the “Active Ingredients” section. For mineral sunscreens only Titanium or Zinc Oxide will be listed.
90% of the ocean’s coral reefs are strained. In 2016 when I visited Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii I was disheartened to see just how strained the nature preserve was first hand. From the color to the lack of diversity, the strain on the coral was obvious. When I peaked into the gift shop, I was appalled that they only sold Chemical sunscreen.
While the bleaching of the coral reefs is a huge problem in the world that cannot be solved by one person, there are small changes we can start at home. Swapping out chemical sunscreen for mineral sunscreen is just one of those simple lifestyle changes that can make an impact.
Now go forth with your new sunscreen knowledge and reapply often!