Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Reef-Safe Sunscreen

It’s finally here, warm weather.  Got sunscreen ?  Please read this article by Garrett Munce for MensHealth.  It may open your eyes to what some sunscreens are doing to destroy coral reefs.

You probably know by now that you need to be wearing sunscreen; your mother told you, your doctor has told you, hell, even we at Men’s Health have told you (many times). According to the American Academy of Dermatology, wearing sunscreen is the best protection you can get against sun damage that can lead to skin cancer. But as you slather yourself in SPF (and reapply every two hours as directed, right?), you may not have thought about how what you choose to protect your body from the sun could also have a role in protecting, or deteriorating, the environment around you.

In 2015, a group of scientists including Dr. Craig Downs, PhD, Executive Director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, was tasked by the Federal Government to figure out why coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands were dying. After ruling out the usual suspects like “sewage, fuel, pesticides, and road runoff,” says Downs, they realized that there were high concentrations of chemicals found in sunscreens in the water of the highly popular tourist beaches. Their subsequent study found that there was over 14,000 tons of sunscreen in our oceans, which they have now been able to directly link to irreversible damage to coral and other marine life.

Following the growing amount of evidence that what sunscreens we put on our bodies can have a devastating effect on the environment around us, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018, two known endocrine disrupting chemical ingredients that have been shown to drastically affect ocean life. Key West followed in 2019 and around the same time the Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule to regulate common chemicals found in sunscreens, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, pending updated testing. (Though it should be noted that the FDA is more concerned with these chemicals’ effects on humans, rather than the environment).

As a result, you’ve probably noticed more sunscreens promoting themselves as “reef safe”. But what exactly does that mean and should you make the switch? It’s complicated.

How Exactly Can Sunscreen Harm The Environment?

Ultimately it comes down to what kind of sunscreen it is. “The issue is more with chemical sunscreens because those are the ones that have been shown to accumulate [in the water],” says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, whereas mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t, at least not in the same way. “[Chemicals] get absorbed by some of the marine life and cause damage and even death. Minerals sink to the bottom.” According to Downs, coral bleaching is the most visible effect of damage but it goes way beyond that. These chemicals can affect all aspects of an ocean ecosystem—from fertility issues in sea urchins and fish to killing off seaweed and other marine plant life. “Sunscreens are incredible herbicides, worse than commercial herbicides,” says Downs.

How To Choose A Reef Safe Sunscreen

One of the biggest reasons people stay away from mineral sunscreens is how they look (chalky) and feel (filmy) on their skin. That may have been true for the old-school zinc, but now formulas are smoother and easier to rub in, though may still take some getting used to. “Buy a few different sunscreens and try them all to figure out which one your skin likes best because all skin is different,” says Bhanusali. “People may have reactions to certain ingredients, so you have to play around with it.” Always choose a sunscreen that is at least broad spectrum SPF 30, as advised by the American Academy of Dermatology, and look for versions that are water resistant. Be wary of any product that doesn’t list an SPF rating, since those are substantiated and regulated by the FDA, even if some of the ingredients are not. And if you can’t find a mineral sunscreen you like, but still want to be reef safe, consider UPF clothing which still protects your skin from UV rays.

Check out the 12 best reef-safe sunscreens. We’d be willing to bet you’ll find one you like so much, you won’t even miss your old chemical screen. The reefs will thank you.

Slide 1 of 13: You probably know by now that you need to be wearing sunscreen; your mother told you, your doctor has told you, hell, even we at Men’s Health have told you (many times). According to the American Academy of Dermatology, wearing sunscreen is the best protection you can get against sun damage that can lead to skin cancer. But as you slather yourself in SPF (and reapply every two hours as directed, right?), you may not have thought about how what you choose to protect your body from the sun could also have a role in protecting, or deteriorating, the environment around you.In 2015, a group of scientists including Dr. Craig Downs, PhD, Executive Director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, was tasked by the Federal Government to figure out why coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands were dying. After ruling out the usual suspects like “sewage, fuel, pesticides, and road runoff,” says Downs, they realized that there were high concentrations of chemicals found in sunscreens in the water of the highly popular tourist beaches. Their subsequent study found that there was over 14,000 tons of sunscreen in our oceans, which they have now been able to directly link to irreversible damage to coral and other marine life.Following the growing amount of evidence that what sunscreens we put on our bodies can have a devastating effect on the environment around us, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018, two known endocrine disrupting chemical ingredients that have been shown to drastically affect ocean life. Key West followed in 2019 and around the same time the Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule to regulate common chemicals found in sunscreens, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, pending updated testing. (Though it should be noted that the FDA is more concerned with these chemicals’ effects on humans, rather than the environment). As a result, you’ve probably noticed more sunscreens promoting themselves as "reef safe". But what exactly does that mean and should you make the switch? It’s complicated.How Exactly Can Sunscreen Harm The Environment?Ultimately it comes down to what kind of sunscreen it is. “The issue is more with chemical sunscreens because those are the ones that have been shown to accumulate [in the water],” says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, whereas mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t, at least not in the same way. “[Chemicals] get absorbed by some of the marine life and cause damage and even death. Minerals sink to the bottom.” According to Downs, coral bleaching is the most visible effect of damage but it goes way beyond that. These chemicals can affect all aspects of an ocean ecosystem—from fertility issues in sea urchins and fish to killing off seaweed and other marine plant life. “Sunscreens are incredible herbicides, worse than commercial herbicides,” says Downs. What’s The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens?“In the simplest terms, mineral [also called physical] sunscreens deflect UV rays and chemical sunscreens actually absorb them and use heat to break them apart,” says dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD. Physical sunscreens also tend to be natural, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, whereas chemical sunscreens are synthetic. The easiest way to think about it is to picture the old-school lifeguards or surfers with pure white zinc on their noses. These physical blockers actually sit on top of skin, which is why dermatologists like Dr. Bhanusali actually prefer them. “They do a better job of protecting us, but the biggest issue is that people don’t always like them because they leave a barrier,” he says. That’s why chemical sunscreens were developed—they sink into skin easier and don’t usually leave a white, chalky cast. These days, however, formulations of mineral sunscreens are getting better and grind the minerals down to a microscopic size called nanoparticles to ensure they disappear on skin quicker and more easily without leaving a film or chalky look.But nanoparticles aren’t perfect, even those of natural substances like zinc or titanium dioxide. “They tend to accumulate god knows where,” says Dr. Bhanusali. As manufacturers began to micronize particles smaller and smaller, “they went too far,” says Robinson. “There are potentially harmful effects as they seep into the skin,” which can be bad news for humans as well as marine life. “Nanoparticles still pose an increased toxicological risk because, just like in humans, they can be absorbed into the blood stream [of marine life],” says Downs. The impact is still being studied and may not be as extreme in some cases as chemical sunscreens, but is still something scientists like Downs are concerned about. “It’s the dose that makes the poison, so if you had 6,000 people go into [the same water] with nanosized zinc oxide, yes, I think there would be an impact,” he says.What Makes A Sunscreen Reef Safe?Keep in mind that “reef safe” is not a standardized term - it’s something come up by marketers. “Calling something reef safe implies you’ve actually tested that product on reef organisms and most companies don’t do that toxicity testing,” says Downs. When you see the words reef safe on a bottle, it usually just means it’s free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, which is a start but not the be-all-end-all. To really hedge your bets, you should look at the ingredients list and see if it’s a purely mineral sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide (sometimes formulas will include other chemicals, like avobenzone) and whether it says the ingredients are nano or non-nano. To be as safe as possible, the sunscreen should contain only non-nano mineral sunscreens.There are some independent agencies who have set up their own certification and testing processes to help identify sunscreens that don’t contain harmful ingredients. Protect Land & Sea, which Downs oversees, tests sunscreens for 11 potentially harmful chemicals as well as a slew of other things like parabens and other preservatives. The Environmental Working Group also has rigorous standards in what they consider safe to use. Look for their logos on packages to help easily identify products that they deem safe.Can Using a Reef-Safe Sunscreen Really Make a Difference?Cynics among us may wonder if saving marine life could be as simple as switching their sunscreen. There are multiple factors to consider, according to Dr. Bhanusali, like climate change and pollution, which also contribute to the deterioration of coral reefs and nothing is black and white. “The only thing that’s non-negotiable,” he says, “is that you have to wear something because extended UV damage over time can lead to skin cancers.” And if you’re still unconvinced, consider this: physical sunscreens can actually protect you better from the sun’s rays. Mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are broad spectrum protectors, which means they protect from UVA and UVB rays (not all chemical sunscreens protect you from both). So switching to a reef safe sunscreen could do your body good as well as the ocean.Basically, says Robinson, you have to make the decision for yourself. “If you’re going swimming in the ocean, I would choose a product that is reef safe,” he says. “If you’re going to the beach and laying out, it doesn’t matter as much.” But consider that, as Downs says, “the poison is in the dose.” The harmful chemicals in sunscreens compound over time, so even one person making the switch could make a difference.How To Choose A Reef Safe SunscreenOne of the biggest reasons people stay away from mineral sunscreens is how they look (chalky) and feel (filmy) on their skin. That may have been true for the old-school zinc, but now formulas are smoother and easier to rub in, though may still take some getting used to. “Buy a few different sunscreens and try them all to figure out which one your skin likes best because all skin is different,” says Bhanusali. “People may have reactions to certain ingredients, so you have to play around with it.” Always choose a sunscreen that is at least broad spectrum SPF 30, as advised by the American Academy of Dermatology, and look for versions that are water resistant. Be wary of any product that doesn’t list an SPF rating, since those are substantiated and regulated by the FDA, even if some of the ingredients are not. And if you can’t find a mineral sunscreen you like, but still want to be reef safe, consider UPF clothing which still protects your skin from UV rays.Check out the 12 best reef-safe sunscreens. We’d be willing to bet you’ll find one you like so much, you won’t even miss your old chemical screen. The reefs will thank you.

Slide 2 of 13: $17.99Shop NowThis brilliant solve for gloopy, thick mineral sunscreen comes out of the can in a whipped cream consistency, which makes it easier to rub in and feel lighter on the skin. It still leaves a slight white cast at first, but is useful to see if you’ve missed a spot before it disappears.

Slide 3 of 13: $32.00Shop NowThis fragrance-free zinc sunscreen lotion is top rated by the EWG because of the 70% organic formula and high quality plant-derived ingredients. Since there’s no added fragrance, it’s gentle enough to use on sensitive or irritation-prone skin.

Those are just 3 of 12 reef-safe sunscreens.  Click here to see all 12:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/wellness/heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-reef-safe-sunscreen/ss-BB14gAut?ocid=spartanntp#image=1

Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who are prepared. I want to help you prepare by sharing what I have learned about life skills, and how I am still learning. Not knowing these skills can effect your personal growth. I hope you enjoy and learn from this information. Feel free to connect with me, to comment or e-mail your question and opinions. Sit back, relax and let the learning begin. Email: dhickey389@msn.com