Sunscreen Pollution - Is Your Sun Protection Reef Safe?

Are you committing sunscreen pollution? If your sun protection isn’t reef safe you might unknowingly be killing off coral in delicate marine ecosystems.

Read on for the low-down on the link between sunscreen and coral reef damage, ingredients to avoid and how to make the best choice for your skin and the environment.  

This is how sunscreen can kill the reef

You slathered on sunscreen before hitting the waves (good job!) but the chemicals slipping off your skin and into the water are doing anything but good for marine life below. 

A warning that all was not well with sunscreen and reefs surfaced more than a decade ago when a study linked coral bleaching with common sunscreen ingredients, especially in areas popular with tourists. 

Bleaching is when a coral tissue whitens in response to stressful conditions. The two most damaging offenders in many sunscreens are the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate - coral appears to be very sensitive to these chemicals in their earliest life-stage. 

More recently, Dr Craig Downs, an expert on the impacts of sunscreens on marine life, suggested in a 2015 study that that oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3) in particular had a devastating effect on coral. 

The study suggested that even at a tiny concentration, oxybenzone can disrupt the reproduction and growth cycles of coral which ultimately leads to bleaching, deformities, and ultimately death in coral.

The study also points out it’s estimated between 6000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion (much of which contains between 1% and 10 % oxybenzone) is released into coral reef areas every year, putting global reefs at risk of exposure. 

Hawaii made the move to ban sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs. The bill which will go into effect January 1, 2021, highlights just how serious the issue is and Hawaii’s stance could tip other countries to take similar action

Oxybenzone and octinoxate aren’t only found in sunscreen, they’re commonly found on the ingredient listings of moisturisers, lipsticks and other beauty products.

We don’t have to be hanging out at the beach for these chemicals to mess with marine life either, they wash down bathroom drains only to eventually end up in waterways and reef ecosystems too.

How to make a reef safe (and skin safe!) sunscreen choice

We’re definitely not suggesting you shirk the sunscreen on your next tropical vacay!

Instead, get to know your sunscreen basics so you can make a choice that’s smart for your skin and kind to the reef.

There are two types of sunscreen; chemical and physical, and here’s the low-down on why one is better for the reef (and your skin!) than the other.

Chemical sunscreen 

Chemical sunscreen is absorbed into the skin. The synthetic ingredients provide protection by absorbing UV rays, converting them into heat and releasing them from the body so the skin isn’t damaged. 

The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include the reef-damaging octinoxate and oxybenzone. Bottom line? Chemical sunscreen is not a good choice for the environment. 

Physical sunscreen

Unlike its chemical cousin, physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen) isn’t absorbed by the skin - it sits on top. It provides protection by creating a barrier between your skin and the sun’s harmful rays. 

Physical sunscreens are made with natural ingredients, the active hero ingredient being zinc oxide - which provides nature’s best sun protection. 

Free from chemicals and synthetic ingredients, physical sunscreens are reef safe and a healthier choice for your skin too! 

100% natural, our broad spectrum SPF15 Face Moisturiser is a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and contains organic coconut oil (of course!) for its exceptional moisturising and protective properties.

So, it’s pretty easy to make a smart, reef safe sunscreen choice, don’t you think? Simply read the ingredient listing, steer clear of any chemicals that may interfere with our beautiful marine life and opt for a 100% natural physical sunscreen!

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