Sea Safe Sunscreen: What You can do to Protect Yourself and the Coral Reef!

Summer is right around the corner (finally!), and your friends at Edvotek hope you have already planned out ways to keep your skin safe with sunscreen and sun protective clothing. We all have sunscreen preferences, whether they be high or low SPF protection, tanning lotion, spray sunscreen, or even mineral sunscreen. However, recent research has shown that we should add in one more preference: reef-safe sunscreen.

Why Reef-Safe sunscreen?

The reason for this comes down to one tricky chemical: oxybenzone. When sea anemones and coral absorb this chemical, which is found in many sunscreens on the market today, they turn the oxybenzone into phototoxins1. Scientists found that when the chemical is on its own, it is fine but once the anemones absorb the oxybenzone, they replace a hydrogen group with a sugar, and when that chemical is exposed to light is when it becomes toxic1. Another looming threat to the coral reefs is reef bleaching. Reef bleaching occurs when the sea water’s temperature rises, which causes a ripple effect and the reef will expel the algae that lives on it. When the algae gets released off of the coral, it looses its beautiful and vibrant coloring and becomes transparent. Chemicals- which can be found in sunscreen- can also lead to coral bleaching. These chemicals are parabens, benzophenones, and other compounds found in sunscreens4.

Studies on the coral reef and its declining health have been ongoing for a while. You may be wondering- why is the coral reef so important? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) outlines the many benefits of coral reefs, as well as their importance; ranging from their cultural importance to indigenous people, keeping the shore line intact, the profound range of ecological diversity, and profits generated via tourism2. Coral reefs play an important role in several factors of life, they feed fishes, offer shelter to organisms, and prevent coastal erosion which is why making a simple swap in your sun care routine can help preserve and protect these extremely valuable ecosystems!

Sunscreens to check out!

Now that we are more aware of the situation, what should we be shopping for instead? The organization, Save the Reef has a great webpage detailing what to look for and what to avoid, check out their article here! Most sunscreens will have a little note on the bottle that says “reef-safe”, but the best way to pick a good reef-safe sunscreen is to check the ingredients list. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, parabens, harsh fragrances, and try swapping out for a mineral based sunscreen as well. As of late, most sunscreen brands have been adding “no oxybenzone” to their labels as well, but a safe option is also physical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens (this is my personal favorite) are physical sunscreens, usually made with zinc particles that help protect you from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

What else can I do to protect the coral reef?

We’re happy you asked! Being environmentally conscious as a whole is important in reducing the effects of global warming, making sustainable swaps, recycling, measuring and making an effort to reduce your carbon foot print, and supporting environmental research can all help. Another interesting method to help protect the coral reef is by looking into green infrastructure! This helps to reduce the amount of pollution from storm water by cleaning it through mechanical or natural infrastructure- think harvesting rain water and planting roof-top gardens. This informational booklet from the Environmental Protection Agency can tell you more:

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