My heart fell when I found out that sunscreen kills corals. Yes, the product we regularly slather to protect our skin from UV rays is damaging coral reefs worldwide. According to an environmental study conducted in Hawaii, just a small amount of sunscreen containing the ingredient oxybenzone is enough to disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles. This leads to coral bleaching, on top of several other man-made causes of coral bleaching.
Even if you don’t swim in the ocean right after applying SPF, your sunscreen can still go down the drain and reach the seas when you take a shower or when your spray it near the sand. Each year, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in our oceans.
Two years after this study was released, Hawaiian lawmakers passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing the harmful ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, but this bill won’t go into effect until 2021. Last year, Hawaiian Airlines started giving free samples of reef-safe sun care to their customers. Good job, Hawaii! A number of beach resorts have started educating their customers about reef-safe SPF. Let’s hope the rest of the world will follow.
Before you do a knee-jerk reaction of banning sunscreen from your life forever, please remember that we do need sunscreen. It helps prevent skin cancer and skin damage. What’s a frequent traveler and SPF-using person to do?
2. Educate other people. Not everyone is aware of this phenomenon, so tell your friends about it. Aside from sharing articles, inform your friends who own or work in resorts, surfing schools, tour companies, and other beach-related establishments. Some tour companies have already started banning sunscreen brands that don’t adhere to the new safety standards. In Hawaii, tour groups hand out free samples of reef-safe sun care to tourists.
3. Write to your favorite sunscreen brands, especially if they’re part of the offending list. Send emails and leave messages in their social media accounts to pressure them into creating a safer sunscreen formula without oxybenzone and octinoxate.
4. Add other forms of sun protection. There’s an ongoing debate between environmentalists and offending sunscreen brands. The latter is insisting that oxybenzone is the most effective ingredient to prevent skin cancer, and that banning it supposedly compromises the health and welfare of people. These polarizing views are putting us consumers in the middle, as if making us choose between death by skin cancer or death of coral reefs. Personally, I’m choosing reef-safe sunblocks that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and if you feel that isn’t enough to protect you from skin cancer, then add more layers of protection, like UV shirts and a wide-brimmed hat.