Many of us will be heading to the beaches during the summer. A perfect destination for families and ocean sports lovers. And of course, if you’re planning to go to the beach, you probably will bring your favourite sunscreen with you, to protect your skin or the one of your loved ones.
Well, did you know that sun lotions have been recognised as one of the causes of coral reefs devastation? Does ocean-friendly sunscreen exist?
Here’s an insight on how harmful sunscreens are for the oceans, and what solutions we have as responsible travellers to be able to protect our health without harming the sea.
What science says
It’s been a few years now that we know sunscreen has a devastating effect on marine life. A study published in 2008 in Environment Health Perspectives pointed out that the use of petrochemical-based sunscreens was affecting coral reefs.
What mainly happens is that the corals are bleaching with the consequence of slowly dying. If you want to see what bleached coral is, check out this picture on the home page of the International Year of Reefs and the Ocean Agency.
The main cause of coral bleaching is temperatures rising in the ocean, but this study points out that a very notorious compound OXYBENZONE used in sunscreens also causes major coral bleaching.
it will only take you 20 minutes to harm the ocean
That’s it 20 minutes! That’s the time it takes for 25% of the sunscreen you put on your skin to vanish into the ocean. Knowing that 16 to 25 tons of sunscreen are used per year in tropical areas, the coral reefs absorb between 4 to 6 tons. So next time you go for a two-hour snorkelling trip, maybe check for alternative skin protection solutions.
And the next bad news is that it’s not the only ingredient that is harming oceans.
Here is a list of 5 ingredients that should be avoided:
- Butyl Paraben
Sunscreens on the ban
Oxybenzone is so harmful that Hawaii succesfully passed a bill early may 2018 for it to be banned. In the same idea, some beaches in Mexico have simply been declared sunscreen free, it’s also the case in some areas like Costa Rica and Galapagos, and Palau.
In August 2021, Thailand government announced that sunscreens containing Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidene & butyl paraben would be banned from all marine national parks of the country. Breaching the ban could lead you to be fined up to 100,000 baht.
While some areas of the world declare their beaches sunscreen free, some cities in the USA (New York, Boston and Miami Beach) started putting sunscreen dispensers on their boardwalks to prevent skin cancer.
And here’s a real point. It’s not new to us that overexposing to the sun is harmful to our health, and that we need to protect our skin from it’s damages.
We need ocean-friendly and skin friendly alternative solutions.
What are our alternatives?
Start with the basics
Stay in the shade, wear a hat, sunglasses and don’t expose in the sun during “peak hours”. Everybody knows that, and it’s even more true for our kids, right ?
And even if this sounds basic, your mom’s advice when you were a kid was probably the best one for you and for the corals.
Cover up when you swim.
Remember that bad sunburn you once got while you were watching Nemo in the middle of that snorkelling trip you did (#realstory), well there’s nothing better than UV protection gear to avoid that.
And if you don’t have a UV protecting swimsuit or shirt, well you can always wear a t-shirt, but remember that white ones let UV’s pass.
What if I have to go in the sun?
You cannot decently put your skin at risk, so if you go in the sun, don’t overexpose and in any case always protect your skin.
More and more cosmetic brands are working on eco-friendly sun lotions and new products are coming to the market, some of which are even organic sunscreens. Essentially, these new products are composed of mineral filters. The usual mineral filters are zinc dioxide or titanium dioxide (for the latter non-nano version should be preferred to avoid skin penetration).
Sunscreens containing mineral filters do not penetrate the skin, are non allergenic and limit the impact on oceans. If you have to wear sunscreen, that’s definitely a better option. They might be a little more expensive than “regular” ones, but it is worth it.
Here are a few brands, we spotted that had ocean-friendly sunscreens in their range. Some of them work with official ocean conservancy NGO’s and associations. The list is not exhaustive but could be of use for next time you prepare your beach gear bag.
Biothem Water Lover SunMilk
Avene – Skin Protect, Ocean Respect Range
Green People Sun Screen
What about you, what’s your solution to avoid chemical based sunscreen? Tell us in the comments