Breaking down ‘reef toxic’ sunscreen

From a country with a giant ozone hole above it, I know the importance of sunscreen. However, it appears that some sunscreens are proving hazardous to the world around us. As some islands are now discovering, the very lotion we have been using to protect ourselves may be harming the underwater worlds we visit.

A tiny nation in Micronesia has recently brought this environmental issue back into the limelight. The Republic of Palau, situated in the Pacific ocean, has announced it will ban ‘reef toxic’ sunscreen from 2020 in a bold step to protect the nation’s reefs and corals.

This follows a vote from Hawaii in May to also ban harmful sunscreens, however, it is not expected to be enacted until a year after in 2021.

Oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene and some parabens are key harmful ingredients found in many of today’s sunscreens that may cause harm to the reefs as they wash off and cause a bleaching effect that can be explained far better by LiveScience. For these islands who have become tourist havens with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, this can cause consistent strain on the reefs and coral that may create both lifestyle and tourism issues in the future.

So as a tourist or environmentally concerned individual what are the options?

If water-resistant options have crossed your mind unfortunately even many of them do not make the cut. Oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene still make up over 20% of the active ingredients in Neutrogena’s wet skin products and are also likely in many other worldwide brands.

Fortunately, there are other options that can keep both user and reef safe such as mineral sunblocks. These mineral sunblocks containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide UV protection are less absorbent than other sunscreens but have found to have no effect on coral or reefs.

So whilst more islands are taking a stand for their underwater environment and surroundings, more pressure will soon fall on brands and companies to think outside the box and away from ‘reef toxic’ chemicals and formulas if they wish to remain key actors in the industry.

 

Image: Pexels License

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