How Toxic Sunscreen Is Ruining Our Oceans & How To Help

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There’s nothing quite like the sun, the water, the sand. The beach is a dream destination for parents and kids alike. However, while fun in the sun 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 lifesaving 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. With the growing trend of coral safe sunscreen, it’s important to assess the effects of sunscreen on our bodies and the Earth. Toxic sunscreen can have a serious impact on the environment, and on our oceans in particular. Let’s take a closer look.

Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid

There has been a lot of talk in recent years in the natural product industry regarding sunscreen dangers and improving safety. There are specific harmful ingredients in sunscreen that are best avoided. Researchers at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science published a study that found that common sunscreen brands and personal care products alike contain an ingredient called oxybenzone.  Research shows that this organic compound is a photosensitizer which means that once it penetrates the skin it has the potential to increase free radicals in the body.

We’re not the only ones who come in contact with sunscreen. After applying sunscreen, people often go for a swim in the ocean. This means that 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. In fact, oxybenzone also 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. Coral bleaching is a process by which coral loses its color and rejects symbiotic organisms.

Another chemical ingredient that is safe for the skin, but harms the environment is octinoxate. It contributes to coral bleaching and has been shown to be potentially harmful to sea life in general. Although the list of sunscreen chemicals to avoid isn’t a long one, there is clearly something to be said for investing in ocean friendly sunscreen. But what exactly is it, and why is coral so important?

What Is Reef Safe Sunscreen? Ocean Safe Sunscreen Explored

Colorful coral reef.

Coral reef.

It’s currently estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reef areas around the world annually. This is 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!

You may be asking yourself ‘what’s the big deal in regards to coral damage?’ How is it helping us? Coral protects coastlines from waves and tropical storms. It provides shelter for marine organisms. It acts 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. Seeing as marine and aquatic life encompasses quite a large number of species, coral is vital for the conservation of the food chain.

Many common sunscreens are also made with ingredients that can kill plankton. Plankton is 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.

With this in mind, coral reef safe sunscreen has been formulated to provide consumers with an environmentally friendly sunscreen that they can use confidently without the guilt of destroying aquatic life! This reef friendly sunscreen doesn’t contain any of those harmful ingredients that we mentioned.  It ensures that our beautiful ocean life remains protected. So, what exactly are those natural sunscreen alternatives?

Non Toxic Sunscreen: Natural Sunscreen Alternatives 

Woman facing ocean with white bottle next to her side.

Use natural sunscreen in the sun.

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 for both myself and my kids. However, I try to buy clean sunscreen that contains safe sunscreen ingredients. So, let’s take a closer look at the best non toxic sunscreen and what to look out for.

Any conscious consumer knows the importance of becoming familiar with ingredients labels. And sunscreen is just another product to add to the list. The best non toxic sunscreen is one that doesn’t include oxybenzone or octinoxate. Many eco friendly sunscreens carry labels claiming to be an “oxybenzone free sunscreen” or “Sunscreen without oxybenzone”. As a baseline, that really is the main thing to look out for. Avoiding octinoxate sunscreen is also important, although that’s more environmental than healthy-oriented. That doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial though!

There are a number of eco friendly sunscreen options available on the market. These protect you from the sun and don’t include the ingredients that have been proven to be harmful to the environment. If you want to take it a step further, there is even the chance to get a biodegradable sunscreen! The bottom line is that non toxic sunscreen is a very real alternative to some truly harmful options. You just need to know what you’re looking for in terms of safe sunscreen ingredients!

Neutrogena Sunscreen Review: Is Neutrogena Sunscreen Safe?

Conclusion

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. As such people should go to whatever lengths necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. However, this doesn’t need to be at the expense of our wondrous coral reefs!

Luckily, there is a plethora of easy to find and affordable reef safe sunscreen options when it comes to environmentally friendly sunscreens. Not only are you helping to preserve the environment when you use safe sunscreen, you are also 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 bad chemicals in sunscreen will suffer.

Additionally, for the sake of minimizing the amount of sunscreen used in general, 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. Lastly, you can always try to avoid the beach during the hottest hours of the day to avoid overexposure.

At the end of the day, in an attempt to look after our environment, reef safe sunscreen has become a staple in many homes. 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!