How does sunscreen impact coral reefs and the environment?

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Before jumping into the topics of how does sunscreen impact the environment and coral reefs, I wanted to give a brief oversight on are the forms and types of sunscreens.

Sunscreen or sunblock is used in different forms such as lotions, gels, sprays, foams and sticks to absorb or reflect sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays protecting us from sunburns.

How does sunscreen impact coral reefs and the environment?

Usually, two types of sunscreens are available in the market, chemical sunscreens and mineral sunscreens. Chemical or organic sunscreens absorb UV radiations whereas, physical or mineral sunscreens form a layer on the top of the skin which acts as a shield and reflects harmful rays.

What do studies say about sunblocks? 

Sunscreens are widely used all over the world. But recent studies showed that chemicals in sunscreens like oxybenzone, octinoxate, benzophenone, titanium and zinc oxides become a part of our environment. As the sunscreen will not stay on our skins forever, but it enters the water bodies when we swim or take a shower. These chemicals badly affect marine life and are even deadly for coral reefs. 

Read more about plastic pollution facts in 2020

Sunscreen Chemicals and Maine Life

Why should we care about Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are an integral component of the environment and are a valuable economic and environmental resource. Changing climate, pollution, global warming, diseases and unsustainable fishing practices are known threats for coral reefs. Recently, researchers have discovered that chemicals present in most of the skincare products including sunscreens drastically decrease coral reef production. According to US National Park Service, every year 4-6 thousand tons of sunscreen enter coral reef areas globally.  

But you may think, if it doesn’t harm humans, it doesn’t harm the reef, right?

No. The effect of sunscreen is completely different for coral reefs as compared to humans. Oxybenzone is a fundamental part of sunscreens and is highly toxic for young coral reefs. It is known to be causing damage to its DNA and disrupts endocrine system. Even a small amount of this chemical can consume nutrients of coral reefs.

Bleaching is a process in which coral reefs lose their colour in the absence of a symbiotic relationship. Though it is primarily due to the rise in temperature, this particular chemical also increases the bleaching process.

These adverse effects led to the banning of chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in the Pacific nation of Palau and Hawaii from 2020 and 2021 respectively. Similarly, authorities of the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Aruba and Virgin islands in America are also considering banning sunscreens that have oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene from 2020.

 

What should we do to reduce the impact of sunscreen on the environment?

We cannot stop wearing sunscreen as it protects against skin-burns and cancer. But there is a dire need to carefully select and consider the type of sunscreen while buying. Following are a few suggestions that might help regarding this issue:

  • Increase awareness. Being informed about the product, its chemical constituents and their potential effects.
  • Choose mineral sunscreens instead of chemical ones. Titanium and zinc oxides do not harm coral reefs. Therefore the priority should be given to sunscreens containing these.
  • With increasing knowledge, the demand for reef-safe sunscreen has also increased. Make sure you look for such a product as it is now easily obtainable.
  • Favour lotion-based sunscreens instead of aerosols. Spraying such product leaves residue in air and on sand which is quite unhealthy.
  • Its always better to avoid using sunscreens. You can use fewer products by avoiding swimming during intense mid-day sun, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and spending more time in the shade.
  • The government can encourage developers and grant financial incentives for eco-friendly sunscreen manufacturing.

Here are some mineral sunscreens products you might be interested in

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+, 5-Ounce
Sdara SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin - Reef Safe, Biodegradable, Broad Spectrum With Natural Zinc Oxide, Oxybenzone Free - 3 oz
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Mineral Ultra-Light Fluid Broad Spectrum SPF 50, Face Sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide, Oil-Free, 1.7 Fl. Oz
$13.77
$9.97
$33.50
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+, 5-Ounce
$13.77
Sdara SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin - Reef Safe, Biodegradable, Broad Spectrum With Natural Zinc Oxide, Oxybenzone Free - 3 oz
$9.97
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Mineral Ultra-Light Fluid Broad Spectrum SPF 50, Face Sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide, Oil-Free, 1.7 Fl. Oz
$33.50

Last update on 2020-09-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Here are more tips for making 2020 the most sustainable year.

Conclusion on How does sunscreen impact the environment and coral reefs

Coral reefs are part of the environment and sometimes we harm it without noticing. A small change in our lifestyle will help to keep our planet beautiful.

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