Summer is rapidly approaching in the northern hemisphere and if you’re like me, you’re looking forward to enjoying more time outside in the warm sunshine. Whether this leads you to the beach, the garden, or hiking trails, it is important to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Also, if you’re like me, you usually just grab the cheapest sunscreen from your local drugstore and go on your way. Hawaii’s recently proposed ban on certain sunscreens has made many people think twice about the chemicals they are putting on their skin andsubsequently, into the environment.
On May 1st, 2018, the state of Hawaii announced that it had passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals called oxybenzone and octinoxate. This bill is the first of its kind in the world and if the governor signs it, it will go into effect in 2021. According to an article by NPR, these chemicals can be found in over 3,500 sunscreen brands, including popular names like Banana Boat.
This bill was devised after several studies found that these chemicals lead to coral bleaching. A 2008 study by Daonvaro et al. discovered that common sunscreen ingredients cause rapid bleaching in corals by harming the symbiotic algae that live on the animals’ surface. Without these algae, known as zooxanthellae, the coral loses its main food source and will eventually die. This study further revealed that even low concentrations of the mainstream sunscreen chemicals can cause harm. This is particularly alarming, because approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash into our oceans and waterways each year.
Hawaii has spearheaded a major change in the sunscreen industry, but you can help coral reefs yourself by choosing reef-safe sunscreens. The major alternatives to chemical sunscreens are known as physical sunscreens. These products contain minerals, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that reflect UV rays before they can harm your skin cells. It is important to remember that even when choosing mineral sunscreens, they must be labeled as “non-nano.” This is because nanoparticles are very small and thus, will be ingested by corals and other marine creatures.
The Environmental Working Group rates sunscreens based on the quality of UV protection, as well as the environmental and human health hazards posed by their ingredients. This list displays the 216 sunscreens that the EWG has given a “low hazard rating”. 211 of the products are mineral-based, while 23 are chemical-based but do not include oxybenzone.
So, before you head outdoors this summer, remember that being mindful of the sunscreens you use can make a positive impact on our world!
Have you tried reef-safe sunscreen yet?