If you are someone who is outside in situations where you need sunscreen, you are also probably someone who appreciates the natural beauty of the world and the water and all that it has to offer. Being that person you would want to do all that you can to make sure the footprint you leave in the sand isn’t covered in harmful chemicals that are killing our coral reefs, right?
Saving Our Skin, Harming the Ocean
Recent studies have found that the chemicals in many popular brands of sunscreens are harming coral reefs and many different forms of marine life. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are some of the main elements of many sunscreens, and they are there to help protect us from the sun’s UV rays that can cause us to burn and even develop cancer.
However, these same chemicals have been found to decrease corals’ defenses against bleaching, along with damaging their DNA and hurting their development. All of us have most likely put on sunscreen before, and are probably still doing so frequently when we go to the beach or river or lake, not knowing the negative effects that you are having.
Maybe you are thinking, well I don’t live in Hawaii or places with coral reefs so it’s okay, or I make sure to wait until it is dry and it’s waterproof so it is not doing THAT much damage. Even if you don’t swim after applying sunscreen, it can go down drains when you shower and eventually end up in our water sources. Aerosol versions of sunscreen can spray large amounts of the product that ends up on the sand, where it gets washed into our oceans. These are harmful chemicals that natural wildlife has no defense against, and there is more and more research coming out on how it is affecting ecosystems and wildlife.
These are just a few ways that chemicals from sunscreen can harm marine life from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Impair growth and photosynthesis of green algae.
- Accumulate in the tissues of dolphins and even be transferred to young.
- Cause defects in mussels and their young, hindering reproduction and populations.
- Damage the immune and reproductive systems of sea urchins, and cause their young to be deformed.
- Cause female characteristics in male fish and decrease fertility and reproduction.
Knowledge is Power
It is hard for many of us because we have grown up seeing the same brands and using what is cheap and easy to apply, and there was not a lot of research or correlation with what we were putting on our skin and how it affects what we come in contact with. However now that we know, we shouldn’t have an excuse anymore. We may be the ones responsible for this contamination, but we’re also capable of helping heal these fragile underwater ecosystems.
There are many ways we can still protect ourselves from getting sunburnt and the negative effects UV rays can have on our skin.
- Seek shade: Choose to hang out under some coverage like umbrellas or pop-up tents to protect your skin from direct sunlight, especially between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is at its peak.
- Read the label: Avoid any product that contains oxybenzone and choose mineral-based sunblocks that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. You can find a list of eco-friendly and reef safe sunscreen here.
- Wear your SPF: If you know you are going to have to be in direct sunlight for an extended amount of time, throw on a sun shirt, some light pants, and a nice wide-brimmed sun hat to protect your face.
- Say no to spray: While the convenience of aerosol spray is alluring, the majority of the time we miss where we want it to go and it ends up on the sand where it is easily washed into the ocean. Not only that, but it is better for your lungs as we can easily inhale the spray in the air.
We are all about getting outside and enjoying the beautiful natural world around us, and we also think that we each have a responsibility to protect that natural world and do our part to leave it better than we found it. Share what you have learned and the ways you are choosing to support a world where all things can thrive with your friends and family. Social media today gives us an outlet to be able to reach those that we otherwise wouldn’t, and many might not know how simple things like sunscreen can be destroying the world we love. Knowledge is power, but it is what we do with what we learn and know that the power really comes from.