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How To Avoid the Environmental Impact of Sunscreens

If you’re the kind of person who cares about protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, you’re likely also the kind of person who cares about protecting the earth from the harmful effects of…well, people.

And if you’ve ever been cooling off with a relaxing swim in the ocean, and noticed an effulgent, opalescent sheen swirling atop the surface of the water, then you’ve already seen first-hand that sometimes, protecting ourselves from the sun inadvertently damages the planet.

Certain sunscreens contain an active ingredient that washes off into the ocean whenever we take a dip, and it can be toxic for marine life. Hawaii and Palau have gone so far as to ban chemical sunscreen due to the harmful effects it has on coral reefs.

This isn’t to say you should forego sunscreen – you need good protection from the harmful effects of UV rays – but there are ways of protecting yourself while also protecting the planet…

What Sunscreen Does to Oceans

A study revealed that oxybenzone, the core ingredient in sunscreen, is damaging to coral reefs.  The suncare industry has been busy trying to find a way to minimise the environmental impact of sunscreen.

We already knew that plastic was damaging the oceans, and given that sunscreen generally comes in plastic bottles, we weren’t unaware of the environmental impact. That is a problem that can be addressed through raising awareness of the issue, encouraging people to recycle, and exploring alternatives where packaging is concerned.

The problem surrounding oxybenzone is quite different, as it naturally washes into the ocean while people are using it in exactly the way it was intended.

With scientists comparing coral damaged by oxybenzone to graveyards and ‘zombie reefs’ it’s certainly a disturbing prospect. Yet swimmers can take quick and easy steps to avoid damaging the oceans while still protecting themselves from the harmful effects of the sun.

Wear UV Swimwear

If you’re swimming, surfing, or generally splashing about in the water, wearing long-sleeved swimwear with UV protection will reduce the amount of sunscreen washing into the ocean, while providing an extra layer of protection.

How to Find Responsible Sunscreen

If the thought of being unable to relax in a bikini while you swim is a little much, don’t worry – UV clothing is only one solution.

Far better is to choose a sunscreen that is environmentally-friendly and doesn’t contain those chemicals at all.

Physical sun creams that are rub-on, rather than spray-on, and contain active ingredients such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide are great alternatives. These creams create a physical barrier on the surface of your skin to protect it, rather than being absorbed in and are completely biodegradable.

Just be aware that a lot of sunscreens are being labelled as ‘reef-friendly’ following the attention oxybenzone has received in the media. It’s best to double check the ingredients and make certain oxybenzone (or benzophenone-3 as it is also known) is not listed, as the packaging can be misleading.  Trade names for oxybenzone include Milestab 9, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567, KAHSCREEN BZ-3 so keep an eye out for these as well.

Given that Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, Palau and Hawaii have already banned oxybenzone-based sunscreens, it seems likely the tide will turn (pun intended!) on chemical creams that don’t find alternatives. Getting in the habit of using eco-friendly sun care now will not only avoid causing harm to the oceans you’re enjoying, it will save you running into trouble later when you suddenly find your favourite resort won’t allow your favourite sun cream.

We’re currently in the process of developing our own range of sun care products, and given the environmental impact of chemical sunscreen have made the decision to forego creating chemical products at all. All our skincare will be physical and environmentally safe, so you can have peace of mind that avoiding damage to your skin isn’t causing damage to our oceans.

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