We hope we’re not late to the game, but we’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while now. If you’re one trying to adopt a more natural beauty routine, you might already be familiar with the impact sunscreens have on our health. However, regular lotions come with another problem: they harm coral reefs. Before getting into better alternatives, let’s take a look on how they work to prevent our skin from burning.
As you may know, sunscreens protect us from ultraviolet rays, which cause sunburns and skin cancer. Although a small amount of it is essential for our body to produce vitamin D, it’s important to preserve our skin from too much exposure. What sunscreens do is they keep these uv rays from going into our skin.
Found in a majority of products, the most common ultraviolet blocking chemicals are oxybenzone and octinoxate. They function by absorbing the dangerous rays and converting them into harmless heat.
Mineral options, more natural, work by physically blocking the rays from reaching the skin. They use reflecting ingredients that are not absorbed by the skin
The chemicals mentioned above penetrate the skin and go into our bloodstream, which makes them extremely toxic compounds. The worse of them is oxybenzone, due to its high skin penetration, hormone disruption, skin allergies and cell damage.
As we covered, chemical sunscreens are bad for our health, but it’s also the case for marine ecosystems. Up to 14’000 tons of sun creams enter the world’s reefs annually, and studies have shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate, once in the water, are toxic to corals by damaging their DNA, disrupting their endocrine system, hurting their development and decreasing their defense against bleaching. Indeed, this toxic ingredient induces this phenomena by lowering the temperature of corals bleaching. This, added to other factors such as ocean acidification, pollution or rise of temperatures, keeps them from thriving in current marine environment. Note that oxybenzone is toxic to more than just corals: it is dangerous for algae, fish and mammals.
As you’ve understood, mineral sunscreens are the perfect new “sunscreen for coral reefs”.
But be careful. For the corals, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe: we have to go for non nano zinc dioxide. These particles used must be “non-nano” in size, because any particles smaller than 100 nanometers can be consumed by coral. And when you choose your brand, inspect the components, because even an organic/natural certification doesn’t mean it’s safe. For example, plant-based oils as well as certain preservatives found in sunscreens (i.e. parabens) can be very bad to reef organisms. We made a selection for you that take all of these concerns into consideration.
Note that you don’t have to actually go into the ocean to contribute to this. Aerosol dispensers, for example, spray the chemicals on the sand. Plus, as oxybenzone are easily absorbed by the skin ( they can be detected in urine within 30 minutes of application), when you flush the toilet or wash off in the shower, the chemicals enter the sewer and later the sea.