Summer is quickly approaching, meaning a lot of us are planning vacations and filling our days with outdoor activities. When spending time in the sun, wearing sunscreen is an absolute necessity. Skin cancer is a serious threat, especially for those in hotter climates, who often forgo sunscreen. And while it’s important to keep your skin safe, you should also do your part to help protect the environment. Not all sunscreens are created equal, and some sun protection products use ingredients that can negatively impact the environment.
According to a 2016 study, oxybenzone is one of the major offenders that can cause environmental harm, from coral bleaching to killing coral reefs, as well as damaging their DNA and ability to reproduce. In fact, this issue has become such a concern that Hawaii has gone so far as to ban certain ingredients from sunscreens allowed in the state. But if you’re looking for reef-safe sunscreen, how do you tell the difference and make sure you’re choosing the best reef-friendly sunscreens to use this summer to protect skin against sun exposure and take care of the natural environment?
To help you start your journey to safer sun exposure, I’ve rounded up some of the best reef-safe sunscreens you can buy online. Not only do these options use sunscreen ingredients that are safe for coral reefs and marine life, but they’re also highly rated and loved by the real people who use them. I also spoke with a board certified dermatologist to help explain reef-safe sunscreen and how you can protect both yourself and the environment.
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What are reef-safe sunscreens?
“Reef safe sunscreen keeps ocean life happy and does not contain harmful chemicals known to harm coral reefs,” says Chimento. She explains that most reef-safe sunscreens rely on physical UV-blocking ingredients like titanium dioxide and oxide that provide a barrier between your skin and the sun, deflecting the sun’s rays before they hit the skin. However, there are chemical sunscreens that are free of the major chemicals known to cause harm to coral reefs. This is where diligently checking labels becomes even more important.
Chimento points out that all types of approved sunscreens will protect your skin and are effective at blocking UV rays. But while more research is needed to determine the health implications of certain chemicals in sunscreen, reef-safe sunscreen may be a safer alternative for people who are worried about long-term exposure to chemical ingredients.
How to find reef-safe sunscreen
Unfortunately, one major issue is that the terms “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” aren’t regulated by any governing authorities, so you can’t always take a brand’s word for it. According to Save the Reef, a charity organization founded by Karmagawa, it’s good practice to check the ingredient list and avoid any sunscreens that include any of the following ingredients:
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
- Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”
Particle size also matters. Nanoparticles and nano-sized zinc or titanium can build up and become toxic to coral reefs — and potentially, humans — in high concentrations. As a general rule, if a sunscreen doesn’t specify that it’s non-nano, you can assume that it’s better to avoid it.
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