Updates on reef-friendly sunscreen… a MUST read for your next beach holiday!
Why reef-safe sunscreen?
When you’re snorkeling or swimming during your vacation, the sunscreen that’s safeguarding your skin might also be endangering the vibrant coral reef and marine life below you.
For decades, we’ve heard about the importance of using sunscreen to protect ourselves against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
There are two main types of sunscreen: physical (mineral) and chemical. Mineral sunscreens act as a physical barrier on top of your skin, reflecting the sun’s rays away from your body. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain synthetic compounds which absorb the UV light before it reaches your skin.
While lathering on sunscreen before hitting the beach may protect us from the dangers of sun exposure, it can have the opposite effect on life underwater. It is estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the oceans each year. And this is not only from those of us who like to swim in the sea. The sunscreen that you rinse down the drain when you shower can eventually find its way into the ocean. Also, the convenient aerosol sprays can spread sunscreen particles across the sand. When the tide comes in, these chemicals can get washed out to sea.
Sunscreen has become part of our holiday rituals and daily skin routines, but many of these products contain numerous ingredients which can be damaging to marine life. So damaging, in fact, that some destinations including Palau, Hawaii, US Virgin Islands, Key West, and Bonaire are all in the process of banning toxic sunscreens.
Research has found that some of the main chemicals used in sunscreens are harmful to corals and other marine life. One of the main culprits is Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), a chemical ingredient found in over 3,500 sun care products. These chemicals can lead to coral bleaching, damage the DNA of corals and increase abnormal growth and deformities. Sunscreen is likely just one more stressor that is making corals more susceptible to disease, such as the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease that is affecting reefs across the Caribbean sea.
But it’s not only chemical sunscreens that are harmful. Mineral sunscreens sometimes contain nano-particles which are so small that they can be absorbed by marine life. These minerals are toxic to many ocean species and can cause stress and ultimately death, even at low concentrations.
In addition to the harm caused to coral, sunscreen can decrease fertility in fish, accumulate in dolphins, damage the immune systems of sea urchins and deform their young and impair photosynthesis in algae.
Basic Sunscreen Terminology
Sunlight, in addition to summer fun, brings us two types of harmful rays.
UVA – stands for “ultraviolet-A rays.” These are long waves, which penetrate deep into our skin, drying it out from inside and playing a role in premature skin aging.
UVB – stands for “ultraviolet-B rays.” These are short waves, which burn the top layer of your skin. These may be responsible for your summer sunburn, as well as cause skin cancers.
SPF – stands for “Sun Protection Factor.” The number next to it, e.g. “30”, “40” etc. is the time calculated by comparing how long it takes sunscreen-protected skin exposed to UVB rays to burn to the length of time it takes unprotected skin to burn. The higher the number, the better you are protected from UVB. SPF 30 means 30 minutes, SPF 60 is 60 minutes, etc.
Factors to consider when buying sunscreen
Stay away from sprays.
We use lotion or stick only.
When applying sprays to your body, it is impossible to control the spray direction, and you’ll find greasy stains all over your furniture, floor, sand/grass, and clothing.
Most sprays are poor at absorbing. They cover your skin as a kind of film that, once in the water, washes out and forms a disgusting greasy film on the water.
But most importantly, sprays contain toxic ingredients that are harmful to both your own skin, but as well for marine life and especially fragile coral reef ecosystems.
No Oxybenzone, No Octinoxate, No Parabens, No Phthalates, No Sulfates, No Octisalate, No other chemicals you can’t pronounce…
Organic Sunscreen Ingredients
Our rule of thumb is, if the sunscreen has more than a dozen hard-pronounced ingredients—we are out!
As with everything, we are opting for all organic and all natural solutions. Many sunscreen brands will state on their packaging “Certified Organic” and “Certified Natural.”
Bio-Degradable & Recyclable Packaging
In most cases, if the sunscreen is made of natural ingredients, it is biodegradable (aka eco-friendly), but it doesn’t hurt to look for this information on the packaging.
When it comes to the packaging itself, our preference is always given to packaging made of 100% recycled materials, AND it is 100% recyclable after the use.
Zinc or Titanium-based?
Titanium dioxide is very effective at blocking UVB and short-spectrum UVA rays, but it is less effective than Zinc Dioxide/Oxide at blocking long UVA rays. Therefore when choosing a sunscreen, Zinc Oxide based sunscreens will provide better protection for a broad spectrum of UVA/UVB rays.
Most common rules in using sunscreens are:
- External use only
- Do not use on damaged or broken skin
- Do not use on eyes (even fully organic sunscreen for babies can be harmful on the eyes)
- If you have a skin rash or allergic reaction, ask your doctor
- For babies, consult a doctor before use, and look for a specific statement on the packaging that would outline age restrictions, if any
Emily Lockard-Furry began selling travel in 2014. She specializes in destination weddings and honeymoons, but also plans itineraries for multi-generational families and incentive reward travel.