With summer here and the scorching sun beating down on us it’s understandable for many to apply sunscreen before heading out because as most of us know, not utilizing it can be quite dangerous and even life-threatening. (Yes, life-threatening due to the fact that not implementing sunscreen into one’s daily routine can result in, or at least contribute to, skin cancer). Nonetheless, there are actually quite a few other critical factors pertaining to sunscreen and its effects that should be taken into consideration before applying some as it concerns not only one’s own health, but the marine life as well (which sadly includes many of our good friends, like Nemo, Marlin, and Dory).
As of today there are two main categories of sunscreen: physical and chemical; the former contains active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which stay on top of the skin to reflect damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays (1) while the latter consists of organic compounds, such as avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone, that are absorbed into the skin and convert UV rays into heat before releasing that heat from the skin (2).
Furthermore, there is an assortment of SPF factors found in sunscreen that correlate to the prevention of sunburns and continuation of skin cancer caused by UVB rays. For example, if one were to use SPF 15 and they typically burn in 10 minutes, the SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning (3). Despite this, SPF only pertains to UVB rays so when choosing to protect yourself against wrinkles and the establishment of skin cancer caused by UVA rays, certain ingredients should be found within the sunscreen, including ecamsule, avobenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide (3).
Originally it was believed that most of the aforementioned ingredients have been found to be beneficial to the protection of our skin, but recent research has illustrated that octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, and other carbon-based compounds are potentially hazardous. Laboratory studies indicate that they may mimic hormones and have been reportedly connected to sunscreen-related skin allergies, which should raise concern because the imbalance that results causes the creation of other hormones, like testosterone and estrogen, to change significantly (4).
They can additionally affect our environment drastically because when we’re diving into the beautiful oceans around us, the chemicals from the sunscreen are implemented into the water. Sure, I guess one person covered with unpropitious sunscreen can only do so much harm to the vast ocean, but in 2015 alone there was at least 14,000 tons of that substance found in the coral reefs— more than enough to kill eight-five percent of the Caribbean coral reefs (5). A researcher of the Bahamas had also noted that the marine life there had contained such large amounts of sunscreen that the fish started emitting a strong flavor of artificial coconut when consumed (5).
At this rate the pollution we create really will continue to kill our fish friends and their homes, but there is still time for us to learn and change before it becomes too late. Rather than reading this article and believing that one might as well not put on any sunscreen, we should learn that there are numerous ways to prevent these detrimental events from occurring to our ocean and still be able to find a sunscreen that protects us. For instance, because you are now more aware of what our products consist of and how it affects others, we can slowly find alternate versions of what we use and share this invaluable information with others.
So whether you’re taking a stroll outside or relaxing in the ocean, just remember how we can help ourselves and our ocean. With more and more people constantly providing aid to change our perspectives in an auspicious way, there is still hope— even a ripple can result in impactful waves.
(1) Chemical Vs. Physical Sunscreens: Pros And Cons. Renée Rouleau. July 9, 2015.
(2) The Difference Between Physical and Chemical Sunscreen. Piedmont Healthcare.
(3) Griffin, R. Morgan. What’s the Best Sunscreen?. WebMD.
(4) The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens. EWG.
(5) Zhekova, Dobrina. How to Know if Your Sunscreen Is Killing Coral Reefs — and 12 Brands to Try Instead. Travel + Leisure. Apr. 22, 2018.