The Truth You Need to Know About Your Sunscreen

Protecting your skin from the sun is important. Not only does limiting sun exposure help prevent heat-related health risks, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, but it can also reduce your chances of developing skin cancer.

However, some sunscreens can do more harm than good, especially to our oceans. Here’s what you need to know.

Sunscreen Harms the Environment

As much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen is deposited in the world’s oceans each year. One of the biggest impacts it has on our environment is how it affects marine life and coral reefs. Some of the same chemicals used to prevent sunburn come off our skin when swimming in lakes, rivers and oceans or showering off afterward. Oxybenzone, for example, is a leading chemical that helps to absorb UV light but can also be absorbed by corals and lead to coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is the whitening process that happens when coral reefs experience extreme changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, light, or nutrients. As a result, they expel the algae that lives in their tissues, and that’s how they become white. If the conditions reverse, the corals can recover. If not, the algae do not return and the corals eventually die.

Another issue common with sunscreen chemicals is that they contain endocrine and genetic disrupters. In high enough concentrations, these may be damaging to the hormones, genetics and reproductive capabilities of fish populations.

Use Alternatives to Avoid Polluting the Water

Not all sunscreens are made equal.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the most widely talked about sunscreen chemicals that act as pollutants, and in 2021 they will be banned as sunscreen ingredients in the state of Hawaii. However, many other chemicals can still be included even in products that label themselves as “reef safe.”

While mineral sunscreens that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are generally preferred, these ingredients are also harmful if they are nanoparticles, or “nano-sized.” Look for sunscreens labeled “non-nano,” or use the Consumer Products Inventory to find out if your sunscreen contains nanoparticles.

Haereticus Environmental Lab maintains a complete list of ingredients to avoid in your sunscreen. A few of the best-rated sunscreen brands without these toxic chemicals include Thinksport, All Good, Suntegrity, Badger and Raw Elements.

In addition to using eco-friendly sunscreens, you can also limit your sun exposure to begin with so that you don’t have to wear as much sunscreen. Use shade structures to get out of direct sunlight, and wear hats and lightweight clothing with UV protection.