As we all well know, no matter how great the brand is or the sun cream, it will wash off in the water, or the sea when splashing around or going swimming. We reapply for this specific reason, and that of course is for our skin’s safety against skin cancer and associated risks.
So, is our sun cream killing coral reefs? The likely answer, unless you are already sun cream – coral reef savvy, is yes unfortunately.
After decades of research to develop the most effective sun cream, it turns out that the chemicals best designed to protect you from the sun’s burning rays and potential skin cancer are toxic to coral reefs.
Just a small amount of certain chemicals is enough to cause corals to bleach, losing their symbiotic algal energy source and become more susceptible to viral infections.
Sun creams belong to two major categories: physical and chemical. Physical sun creams contain tiny minerals that act as a shield deflecting the sun’s rays. Chemical sun creams use synthetic compounds that absorb UV light before it reaches the skin.
The problem is these wash off in the water as I mentioned above. For example, for every 10,000 visitors enjoying the sea, about 4 kilograms of mineral particles wash into the beach each day.
That may seem relatively small, but these minerals catalyse the production of hydrogen peroxide, a well-known bleaching agent, at a concentration high enough to harm coastal marine organisms.
In addition to this, certain preservatives in sun creams can also be toxic humans (and the coral reef). Parabens such as the commonly used methyl paraben and butyl paraben are fungicides and anti-bacterial agents that extend the shelf life of a product. Phenoxyethanol was originally used as a mass fish anaesthetic.
There are some solutions and hope on the horizon though, so all is not lost. For example, On the 1st of May, Hawaii passed a law banning the sale and distribution of sun creams containing the chemicals; oxybenzone and octinoxate. The new Hawaii sun cream rules will go into effect from the 1st of January 2021. It’s a step in the right direction.
Sun cream should be your last resort. Clothing, such as shirts, hats, pants, can shield your skin from damaging UV rays. An umbrella can also protect you from nasty sunburns. Plan your day around the sun. Go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.
But, what if you want to be out in the sun and need to wear a therefore sun cream?
Firstly, forget aerosols. The chemical ingredients expelled are microscopic, inhaled into the lungs, and dispersed airborne into the environment.
Second, consider a product that includes mineral sun creams with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They must be “non-nano” in size to be considered reef-safe. If they are below 100 nano metres, the creams can be ingested by corals. Also check the list of ingredients for any of the preservatives already mentioned. We of course do a natural sun cream, so please do take a look.
We can all do our part.