So much information has been provided about sunscreen over the years, and we are left in a quandary: which kind of SPF are we to be using? Does it really even matter?

There are many reasons to be concerned, yet today I want to speak to the environmental angle of SPF. Did you know that most of the SPF products that we smooth on to our skin are destroying our ever-fragile ocean environments?

Photo by James Lee

Likely not a part of the equation that you ever considered before (I know I didn’t until I found out about the following), yet there is one particular ingredient found within most of the available SPF products in our marketplace that is a contributing culprit: oxybenzone.

Oxybenzone blocks ultraviolet rays, is categorized as a photo-toxicant (becomes more harmful when in bright light), and can be absorbed through the skin. Currently, it is the most studied ingredient in SPFs and has been proven to irreparably damage coral DNA, and it speeds up the bleaching process of coral that ultimately starves it slowly over time. According to a study by Omri Bronstein, “it only takes a concentration of 62 parts per trillion, or the equivalent of one drop of water in six and a half Olympic-size swimming pools for enough toxicity to occur to cause damage to the coral reefs”. Yikes! That is certainly a small amount!

Photo by Oleg Magni

Once we enter the ocean, approximately 25% of our carefully applied sunscreen rinses off in to the water within 20 minutes. This small amount from just little ol’ you, adds up to about 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen being dumped in to our coral reefs per year collectively! (That is a huge amount of beach goers: am I missing out on beach time??)

The studies underway are showing that not only oxybenzone is damaging: there are many other ingredients and types of SPFs that are failing to prove to be safe environmentally while still being effective at protecting us from skin cancer.

So, what are we to do?

Photo by Lora Weir

We cannot forego wearing skin protection, but we do need to be more responsible in our choices. Thus far, the studies are saying that chemical, organic sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone are the worst to be using. The physical sunscreens that contain ingredients that reflect and scatter the damaging sun rays are the suggested alternatives for now.

Studies are ongoing at a frantic pace as it is recognized that both an environmentally and human-use safe product has yet to be discovered.

Next chapter: Sunscreen and our Skin

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