How Toxic Sunscreen Is Ruining Our Oceans – And How To Help

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Summer is a hectic time, especially if your kids are like mine and don’t want to spend two months in summer camp. If the kids are home from school and haven’t gone to summer camp yet, are finished with camp, or have no camp on the agenda, the risk for boredom is real! As fun as it might sound to them during the school year, there’s nothing kids like about spending the day cooped up inside the house. That’s why I try my best to prepare activities and trips for my kids.

As far as they’re concerned, there may be nothing quite as fun as a trip to the beach – I think they’d spend every day there if they could! The sun, the water, the sand – it’s the perfect summer destination for parents and kids alike. However, while fun in the sun at the beach is a favorite summer past time, it doesn’t come without potential risks. That beautiful sun that shines down on us isn’t good to us all the time – if someone is over-exposed to the sun, it can be quite dangerous!

Sun exposure can cause real damage, both in the short-term (sunburn) and the long-term (skin cancer). That’s why protecting yourself with sunscreen is not only a good idea, it could be a life-saving one. I never forget my sunscreen on beach day and I always make sure my kids are covered and protected from head to toe – safety always comes first.

However, that sunscreen that we all owe so much to, like the sun itself, isn’t necessarily always helping us – it could be hurting us, too. Sunscreen can have a serious impact on the environment, and on our oceans in particular, which is what we’re going to be examining – How Toxic Sunscreen is Ruining Our Oceans.

The Impact of Sunscreen On Coral

Coral reef under water.

Beautiful coral.

We’re not the only ones who come in contact with sunscreen. After applying sunscreen, people often go for a swim in the ocean, and their sunscreen inevitably washes off in the water. While sunscreen has a positive and protective effect on people, the same can’t be said for the effect of certain sunscreens on our oceans.

Researchers at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science published a study which found that common sunscreen brands and personal care products alike contain an ingredient called oxybenzone – a chemical that has the potential to quickly kill coral reef or strip it of its nutrients. Oxybenzone has a toxic effect on young, vulnerable coral in particular. It can cause endocrine disruption, DNA damage, and even coral bleaching – a process by which coral loses its color and rejects symbiotic organisms.

It’s currently estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reef areas around the world annually – a huge amount of sunscreen, especially given how little sunscreen it takes to have a potentially disastrous effect on coral. Toxicity in this instance occurs at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – that’s the equivalent of a drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool! In other words, it doesn’t take a lot of sunscreen to cause a lot of damage to coral!

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You may be asking yourself at this point, ‘what’s the big deal in regards to coral damage?’ Those of you who are out of the loop could think, what do we even need coral for anyway? How is it helping us? As it turns out, coral is not only important to us, its long-term conservation is something that we must recognize as necessary! Coral has both practical and financial value to human beings in ways that most people probably wouldn’t think to consider.

Coral protects coastlines from waves and tropical storms, provides shelter for marine organisms, act as a source of essential nutrients for marine organisms, helps with nutrient recycling, and more! Coral is an absolutely vital cog in the wheel of marine and aquatic life and seeing as marine and aquatic life encompasses quite a large number of species, coral is in turn vital for the conservation of the food chain.

In a more financial sense – since the only way to get through to some people is by linking finances to the discussion – coral reefs provide an estimated $30 billion to various coastal communities annually in goods and services, including via tourism and medical treatments (coral reef organisms are regularly used in treatments for diseases). In short, coral is one of the most important and essential organisms that exist on our planet, and it is something that we must strive to protect!

The Impact Of Sunscreen On Plankton

Ocean water meets horizon.

Ocean plankton.

Coral damage isn’t even the only negative effect that sunscreen can have on our oceans. Spanish scientists have found that other sunscreen ingredients – like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – react with UV light to form compounds like hydrogen peroxide, which can be harmful and deadly to phytoplankton.

Translated into English, what this means is that many common sunscreens are made with ingredients that can kill Plankton – a small organism that provides food to larger fish. With plankton being killed, the food chain and state of aquatic life is, again, put into peril. After throwing all of this information at you, I’d hate to think that some of you are reading this and picturing me as some kind of stereotypical tree hugger – I do love the environment, but the truth is that these are real dangers that we can’t afford to ignore!

Environmentally-Friendly Options

Sign with flowers in the background.

Environmentally conscious.

Now, believe me, I’m not about to tell you to stop using sunscreen. As someone who spends a lot of time at the beach, I definitely go through my fair share of sunscreen for both myself and my kids. I know how important

protecting yourself and your family from the sun is, especially families that have young children with particularly sensitive skin. However, I do make sure that I buy environmentally safe sunscreen!

There are a number of options on the market available now that protect you from the sun and don’t include the ingredients that have been proven to be harmful to the environment. Additionally, for the sake of minimizing the amount of sunscreen used in general, both the harmful and the environmentally friendly kinds, there is a lot you can do!

Wearing hats with wide brims provides a lot of protection, as does wearing loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing that covers the parts of your body that are at risk, such as your arms and legs. There are even clothes made today with a special sun-protective fabric that helps keep you safe from ultraviolet rays, which really comes in handy! Lastly, you can always try to avoid the beach during the hottest hours of the day – in addition to keeping safe, these are usually the busiest hours at the beach anyway, so you may not mind missing out.

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One-in-five Americans suffer from some kind of skin cancer in their lifetimes – a sobering but significant statistic. The importance of protecting skin cannot possibly be overstated, and as such people should go to whatever lengths necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. However, this does not mean that sunscreens that are harmful to coral reef and the environment need to be used!

It’s 2018, and there is a plethora of easy to find, affordable, and easy to use options when it comes to environmentally friendly sunscreens. Not only are you helping to preserve the environment when you use safe sunscreen, you are playing a part in helping to make sure that harmful sunscreen becomes a thing of the past. The more often people choose safe sunscreen over the dangerous kinds, the more the drug manufacturers who peddle harmful sunscreen will suffer.

The sooner that happens, the sooner they will be forced to begin selling sunscreen that does not include harmful ingredients. Big-money drug manufacturers get away with enough as it is, there’s no reason to allow them to continue to push harmful sunscreen onto ignorant consumers and damage the ocean in the process. Simply put, don’t stop enjoying the beach, but do make sure you’re doing your part to help protect the ocean that you love!