Generally, going outside in a sunny day means that we’ve gotta put on sunscreen if we love our skin. If we’re going to the beach, that calls for better versions of sunscreen too, particularly the waterproof ones. The point is, we need it to protect ourselves from the damaging UV rays.
However, you must know that 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year and 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be polluting the seas. About 80 percent of corals in the Caribbean have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution, coastal development, and warming waters. The world’s coral reefs are basically suffering and the conventional sunscreens are making it worse.
So what’s the deal with this anti-UV lotions?
The problem with sunscreens
When we go to the beach with sunscreens and go swimming or just splashing around, chemicals like oxybenzone can seep into the water and corals can absorb them. These substances contain nanoparticles that can disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles, ultimately leading to bleaching.
Let’s say you’re not taking a dip in the beach. Well apparently when we shower, the sunscreen can go down to the drains. Additionally, aerosol versions of sunscreen can spray large amounts of the product onto the sand, where it gets washed into our oceans.
Not all hope is lost and we can change things for the better. Some beach destinations like Hawaii and Palau have planned to ban harmful sunscreens in the coming years. On May 1, 2018, lawmakers in Hawaii passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, another harmful chemical. Hawaii is the first state to pass such a measure, and it could go into effect as a law by January 1, 2021.
While on November 1, 2018, Palau announced that the nation would also ban selling or using sunscreens that contain chemicals harmful to coral reefs. This needs to be done, since Palau is a pristine archipelago known for having one of the largest marine reserves on the planet.
Read also: Coral, The Prettiest Hunter Underwater
The need to protect coral reefs
Every coral reef is at risk now, since marine pollution persists to be a problem. And sadly, many of the most popular destinations have the most at-risk coral. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the bays of Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Israel are especially vulnerable.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the planet’s most spectacular underwater treasures. The reef’s colorful corals attract visitors from all over the world. Countless of snorkelers and scuba divers can swim alongside some of the thousands of species of fish that make the reef their home. Some visitors might have a chance to see dugongs or sea turtles.
Hawaii has Oahu’s Hanauma Bay, a state park formed within a volcanic cone. The area is rife of vibrant coral gardens completed with turquoise water, making the spot one of Hawaii’s best places for snorkeling. Also, this bay is home to 450 species of fish and has the largest mass of reef anywhere in Oahu. America’s Virgin Islands are full of coral (around 30 species), fish, and marine invertebrates
In Israel, there’s the popular Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve. There are bridges above the reefs that allow visitors to get a peek at the coral and the colorful fish it houses. A better view of the beautiful submerged garden can be achieved through scuba diving.
Now, since those places are popular tourist attractions, it’s inevitable that the corals are hugely affected by it. If coral reefs keep getting damaged and eventually die, we will lose a vital ecosystem and hurt global economy, as coral reefs are major tourist attractions and sources of income.
What we can do for those reefs then?
We need to use sunscreen to protect ourselves from burns and skin cancer, but at the same time we need to pay attention to the corals as well. So these tips can help you and the coral garden for the next time you put on sunscreen.
1. See the ingredients.
Peter Gash, managing director of Lady Elliot Island, near the Great Barrier Reef, said “We recommend the use of reef-safe sunscreen free of oxybenzone.” Get yourself mineral-based sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, preferably at the size that’s not nano so the corals won’t ingest them. If you’re not sure whether a sunscreen has nanoparticles, consult the Consumer Products Inventory.
2. Look at an official list.
Every year, Haereticus Environmental Lab publishes a list of what sunscreens are safe for the environment, and the Environmental Working Group rates products with SPF values, including some 650 sunscreens and 250 moisturizers on their environmental impact. If you live somewhere else, check if your country’s food and drug agency/administration has the list or not.
3. Stick with the lotion type.
Sunscreen sprays do sound efficient, but most of the time, aerosols miss the mark and fall to the sand. Better to stick with the lotion types. If you stay in an eco friendly hotel or resort, see if they offer complimentary reef-friendly sunscreens.
4. Stay in the shades and wear good clothes.
Your outfit is actually an effective SPF and it can reduce the amount of sunscreen you need by up to 90%. So, don’t hesitate to wear hats, shirts, and other clothing. Go to shady spots and bring an umbrella or parasol. At the beach, bring your beach tent if you’re just planning to enjoy the breeze. But if you wanna have a swim, consider wearing swimming suit that covers everything (you can take it up a notch like these Asian women).
DIY, natural sunscreen?
Some of you are probably thinking of making your own sunscreen using natural products. And just by googling it, you’ll find a lot of recipes to make it. It does make sense to put on natural things so that the corals won’t suffer, but a new study finds people who use these sunscreen recipes could be putting their lives at risk.
An investigation was done by Lara McKenzie with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. They’re trying to see if homemade sunscreens were portrayed on the internet work or not.
McKenzie found that about 95 percent of DIY sunscreens were positively promoted for their effectiveness, but almost 70 percent recommended “a recipe for sunscreen offering insufficient UV radiation protection.”
“What that means is they made the homemade sunscreens look like they would protect you or your child when in fact they were made from ingredients that would only offer minimal scientifically proven broad-spectrum protection from UV radiation,” she continued. “What’s at risk here is at best sunburn and at worst skin cancer in the future”.
Similarly, Dr. Richard Torbeck, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, expressed his concerns. “I deal with melanoma and skin cancer on a daily basis and feel that [these recipes are] not worth the risk,” said Torbeck.
Another dermatologist, Dr. Tanya Nino from St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California doesn’t see how DIY sunscreen can protect our skin.
She said, “The issue with DIY sunscreens is that they cannot be reliable in terms of the degree of sun protection they provide. Commercially available sunscreens have been extensively tested to determine their ability to prevent sunburn. DIY sunscreens may claim to have a certain SPF, but without the proper testing, the actual SPF may be lower than intended.”
Dr. Nino also said that the ingredients are also problematic. “In addition to the active ingredients in sunscreens, there are also ingredients that stabilize the sunscreen over time, help it spread evenly over the skin, and help make sure it’s actually durable in UV light. Achieving this level of quality in DIY formulations is not reliable,” said the dermatologist.
What do you think? Tell us your thoughts or your experience with diy sunscreen in the comments below.