It may still be winter for some parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean beach season is over! For those living in warm locales or those who may be headed south for a tropical holiday getaway, sunscreen is always a must. And fortunately saving your skin no longer comes at a price for the marine environment. Marine safe sunscreen options are becoming readily available and are an important consideration of your sun-protection regiment.
It’s easy to apply sunscreen without a second thought as to where it goes when it eventually comes off your skin. And it’s equally easy to think, “it’s just a little bit of sunscreen in a big body of water, there’s no way this little bit of sunscreen is going to do any damage,” but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Typical sunscreen contains four ingredients (oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, and parabens) that can do severe damage to coral organisms at just 2 ppm (parts per million.) This means that as little as one drop of sunscreen into a body of water as large as six Olympic swimming pools is enough to degrade these coral magnificent structures and begin the coral bleaching process (causing them to turn white and making them more subject to mortality.)
Coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment. It is estimated that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off of swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers every year. That is literal tons of sunscreen! Just a little sunscreen runoff equates to huge exposure to these delicate and important ecosystems. In a study by the University of Central Florida, researchers found the highest concentrations of oxybenzone (one of the fated four ingredients) were in coral reefs most popular with tourists. The same study found that oxybenzone not only kills coral, but causes DNA damage in adult coral and deforms the DNA in coral in the larval stage. This makes it unlikely that the coral will ever develop properly.
Given that coral reef ecosystems are home to over one million diverse aquatic species it is important we do everything we can to protect them. Making sure you use a marine safe sunscreen whenever you are swimming in the ocean is one way you can do your part. If you are interested in learning more things you can do to protect coral reefs check out this post on 7 things you can do (and not do) to protect coral reefs.
There is no reason to purchase reef harming and toxic sunblock when there are so many skin and environmentally friendly options on the market. The safest sunscreens for both yourself and the reefs use physical mineral sun protectors like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but you want to make sure they are used in non-nano sized form. Some examples of well rated coral-safe or marine-safe sunblock that have high quality and safe ingredients are sunscreens from Thinkbaby, Badger, and TruKid all which use non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Keep in mind people of all ages can use baby/kid sunblock and baby sunblocks are formulated with stricter safety standards. You are going to be getting the same amount of sun protection from a SPF 30 baby sunblock as you are from the adult version with the same SPF.
The Environmental Working Group reviews more than 1,400 sunscreen products and ranks them on a hazard scale of 0-10; 0-2 is low-hazard, 3-6 is moderate hazard and 7-10 is high hazard. You can review the complete list or check out your current sunscreen at http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/.
Get out there and protect your skin without risking the reefs!
– Sarah Ferguson, blog contributor
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