With Summer upon us, I think it is very important to talk about sun protection. If you have known me for a while, then you know that I am trying very hard to use clean products when it comes to personal care. Sunscreen is something that I have studied for quite some time to find the cleanest products to use for myself and my family. I have found that there are synthetic chemicals that can negatively affect my body as well as cause harm to our oceans. This is where mineral sunscreen comes into the picture. But even with mineral sunscreen, we still need to be careful. Continue reading to learn about these chemicals and choices you can make today to use cleaner products for your health and the health of our oceans.
The Big 4 and Your Body
There are four commonly used ingredients in sunscreens that can cause harm to your body as well as to the environment. These ingredients are:
- Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects.
- Butylparaben – Preservative with several suspected human health effects.
- Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects.
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects. Allowed in Europe and Canada, not in USA or Japan. (Raw Love, N.D.)
Oxybenzone and Octinoxate have been known to affect the endocrine system. Increased levels of these chemicals may also lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys (Brucculieri, 2018). Parabens such as Butylparaben are used in many cosmetics as a preservative. Parabens are easily absorbed into the skin and can interfere with proper endocrine function (David Suzuki Foundation, 2019). With 4-methylbenzylidene-camphor (4MBC), many European researchers believe there is a risk of thyroid toxicity and other hormone disruptions (EWG’s Skin Deep, N.D.).
We use sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays and to avoid cancer. But, reading about these chemicals can be scary and can make people unsure of what to do. While none of the listed chemicals have evidence of outright causing cancer, they can still wreak havoc on our bodies and trigger many kinds of endocrine disorders. If these chemicals are harming us, what could it be doing to our environments?
Sunscreen and the Ocean
After years of research, it has become increasingly clear that our choices of sunscreens have negatively impacted our oceans; especially our coral reefs. According to Catharine Cooper a Board Advisor to The Ocean Foundation, “Just a small amount of certain chemicals is enough to cause corals to bleach, losing their symbiotic algal energy source and become more susceptible to viral infections” (Cooper, 2018). She also states that each day 4 kilograms of sunscreen particles wash into the ocean per every ten thousand beach visitors. It can be hard to grasp how that can affect the environment, but after enough time, these particles can catalyze the production of hydrogen peroxide in the water and damage the local marine life and reefs (Cooper, 2018).
Oxybenzone is a highly toxic chemical for our oceans. Cooper states, “A single drop of this compound in more than 4 million gallons of water is enough to endanger organisms” (2018).
Palau, the island nation in the Pacific Ocean became the first to ban all “reef toxic” sunscreens (Cooper, 2018). Hawaii has a new law that will be effective Jan. 1, 2021 that will ban any sale or distribution of sunscreens in the state that contain oxybezone and octinoxate (Cooper, 2018). These bans have taken place because both locations are very popular tourist attractions. Visitors come to these islands to snorkel, scuba, or just spend time on the beach. So, these environments have probably been hit the hardest with the effects of these chemicals.
What Can I Do?
Use Mineral Sunscreen
Sunscreen with the active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are your go to sunscreens to avoid harmful chemicals for yourself and the ocean. However, not all mineral sunscreens are created equal! In order for your mineral sunscreen to be considered “reef safe” is for the minerals to be “non-nano” in size. Cooper states, “If they are below 100 nanometers, the creams can be ingested by corals” (2018). Basically, we don’t want our sunscreen to become dinner for the coral reef. It is also recommended to be sure to check all the ingredients to avoid preservatives that could be harmful for you and the ocean.
The Safe Sunscreen Council
The Safe Sunscreen Council is “A coalition of companies working to raise public awareness” (The Safe Sunscreen Council, 2017). This coalition has a list of companies that are approved to be reef safe. There are all kinds of options for you to choose from.
- Kokua Sun Care
- All Good
- Babo Botanicals
- Stream 2 Sea
- Raw Love
- Raw Elements
- MANDA Naturals
- Mama Kuleana
Don’t Use Sunscreen at All
Now, some people might be weary of using any kind of sunscreen. While I would personally encourage the use of sunscreen whenever you are out of the house, there are other avenue you can take to protect yourself from the sun. You can wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your face, eyes and shoulders from the sun. You can also wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants to protect your arms and legs. When you are at the pool or the beach you can wear a rash guard like these to protect you from those dangerous rays. Finally, you can check your weather apps on your phone to check the UV index for the day. If the index is high, just avoid being outside.
It can be difficult making changes. But, small changes here and there add up to making huge impacts later on. It has been about five years since I started learning about ingredients in my cosmetics and personal care items and I am still learning. I have been able to eliminate a lot of nasty ingredients in my makeup and shower essentials. My next step is to see what I can do with my household cleaners and laundry detergents. All of these changes are in the hopes of keeping myself and my family healthy and happy. It is just an added benefit that I am able to make a small impact in protecting the environment too!
Brucculieri, J. (2018, May 4). What You Should Know About Sunscreen Chemicals Oxybenzone And Octinoxate. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/oxybenzone-chemical-sunscreen_n_5aeb38b0e4b0c4f1931ffce0
Cooper, C. (2018, December 13). Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs? Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.oceanfdn.org/blog/your-sunscreen-killing-coral-reefs
David Suzuki Foundation. (2019). The Dirty Dozen: Parabens. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/dirty-dozen-parabens/
EWG’s Skin Deep. (n.d.). 4-METHYLBENZYLIDENE CAMPHOR. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700047/4-METHYLBENZYLIDENE_CAMPHOR/#
Raw Love. (n.d.). How to Choose a Reef Friendly Sunscreen. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://rawlovesunscreen.com/reef-friendly-sunscreen/
Safe Sunscreen Council. (2017). Retrieved June 28, 2019, from http://safesunscreencouncil.org/