Is Your Sunscreen Killing the Coral Reefs?

Is Your Sunscreen Killing the Coral Reefs?

As some of you may have read, Brandon and I spent last weekend in beautiful, sunny Miami. It was 85 degrees on average, every single day. That kind of heat calls for beach days by the ocean. Long, lazy mornings absorbing sunshine, body surfing with the waves, reading, eating watermelon right from your beach chair. It also requires an endless cycle of sunscreen application and reapplication. If we’ve met, you know my skin is very fair and freckled. In fact, it is so fair that when I go to Sephora to buy foundation, I never have to test out the shades. I’m always #1! Usually titled something like snow, alabaster, iceland, you get the point. My grandmother lovingly refers to my skin as "sour cream" toned. So flattering, I know.

When we arrived on the beach one morning, I reached for my trusty La Roche-Posay bottle. Brandon asked me if we had any reef-safe sunscreen, and I am embarrassed to say I had no clue what he was talking about. I’d never even heard of such a thing, and I am someone who buys and invests in sunscreen frequently. I shook my head, and proceeded to slather on the cooling French SPF. I thought about it more as I sat in the water for almost an hour. How many people are there swimming in an ocean right this minute? How many of those people will swim more than once in that same day? Are all of them wearing sunscreen? Is all of that sunscreen washing off into the ocean? 

I decided to do a little bit more research and found this article on National Geographic, which states:

The researchers estimate that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide, and that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.

I was disappointed, but what else is a fair-skinned redhead like me to do? Not use sunscreen? NO. Mom, don’t pick up the phone. Don’t worry, I’m still slathering on the SPF. 

I worried about natural sunscreens…sure they keep the ocean safer, but do they keep me safe? Will I burn to a crisp? What even is a natural sunscreen? I turned to google, and learned that the two main types of sunscreen are mineral and chemical. While chemical sunscreens rely on your body absorbing the rays, mineral (natural) sunscreens contain titanium or zinc oxide, which deflect the sun’s harmful rays. There are a lot of various opinions, but many dermatologists will recommend natural sunscreens, as they last longer on your body, and require less re-application. This is great news, as the mineral one won’t harm the corals. The downside of natural sunscreens is that there are some studies which show they don’t protect your body as much from UVA rays and that they can feel greasy or be more difficult to apply. 

So here are my conclusions: for starters, especially if you are fair like me, you should be taking other precautions that protect your skin from the sun. Sit in the shade, wear a hat, wear a rashguard. When buying sunscreen, think about if you'll be going in the ocean much. If yes, can you use a Zinc-Oxide based sunscreen that day? Consider what it could do for our oceans, but also think about your skin safety. Remember to vigorously reapply and protect yourself. Please keep in mind that all of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and you should consult your dermatologist before switching sunscreens if you are concerned about how your skin will react. Thank you. 

Below are some options that are safe for you and for the reefs. I have personally tried Beauty by Earth, but the rest have been chosen based on their ingredient list, and ratings. if you have a favorite sunscreen brand, check the label. There are four main ingredients that you should look out for when considering the corals: Oxybenzone, Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor. You may find a sunscreen that is a combination of chemical/mineral without those 4 ingredients! If you do, please let me know!

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