Hi! Summer is just around the corner, and here in the UK sunscreen is becoming a daily need. According to National Geographic (2019), 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen wash into our oceans every year, and they have a big impact on the marine’s ecosystem. Hawaii has even gone as far as to ban the sale of sunscreens with certain chemicals to try and protect their reefs. If you want to reduce the chemicals you’re putting on your skin & in the ocean, don’t worry – here’s how!
NB: Sunscreen isn’t the sole solution for protecting your skin. Wear hats and clothes and reduce your exposure by spending time indoors or in the shade.
The Environmental Impact of Conventional Sunscreen
The most common type of sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen and these work by absorbing the UV light rays and turning them into heat. The most common chemicals used are these typically include oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the two chemicals which Hawaii (and Palau) have banned. There is evidence to suggest that these chemicals can affect marine life in a number of ways including bleaching coral reefs. You can read about other issues with the chemicals on the USA’s National Ocean Service and on MarineSafe.org.
The chemicals get into the water when we go swimming, when we shower or even via the sand if you use a sunscreen spray. Over the last 50 years, 80% of the Caribbean’s corals have been lost due to pollution, climate change and development on the coast.
The Conversation claims that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that these chemicals do the damage that they’re being accused of, due to the tests not being a true representation of how sunscreen actually disperses through the water. I think this is a valid criticism but if there is even a little bit of truth in that these chemicals are damaging our precious coral reefs, then I’ll switch to a more eco-friendly sunscreen! (they also posted this article which supports claims of coral bleaching…so who knows!)
How Eco-Friendly Sunscreens Work
The alternative to chemical sunscreens are mineral/physical ones. They work by using Zinc Oxide to reflect UV rays, preventing them from getting to our skin. Physical sunscreens are not without issues though. There are concerns about the nanoparticles which can penetrate the cells of some small sea creatures which can kill them.
How To Know If A Sunscreen Is Reef Safe
The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory gives us a few chemicals to look out for when checking a sunscreens label. These are:
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
- Microplastic spheres or beads
I can’t find any real certification methods for reef safe products and scientists still seem to be unsure about exactly what constitutes reef safe! By avoiding the chemicals mentioned above and using physical barriers like clothing and staying in the shade, we should be able to reduce our impact on marine life.
When buying something sustainable, we also have to look at other things such as packaging, brand ethicals & transparancy and fair wages. It’s not just enough to be a physical sunscreen. Here are some brands doing great things and making their product truly eco-friendly:
So, Which Sunscreen Should I Buy?
Eco-friendly sunscreens can be way more expensive that the usual ones we can get in boots, especially if you’re getting ones in glass bottles! This just isn’t practical, so I’ve also included options which are packaged in plastic (that’s recyclable) and tried to feature as many price ranges as possible.
This is a face-specific sunscreen that is cruelty-free, vegan, made with recycled plastics and the sunscreen is non-nano.
This one is a more affordable version and is suitable for babies over 6 months! It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
Disclaimer: I was gifted a bottle of Coola’s sunscreen as part of my role as a judge for CertClean’s clean beauty awards.
This is a more expensive one but it’s vegan, cruelty-free, with 70% certified organic ingredients, non-nano and in a glass bottle.
Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link which means that I earn a small commission off of any purchases, at no extra cost to you.
Green People use plant-based packaging which can be recycled. This product is also vegan, cruelty free and the 200ml bottle has a built-in donation to the Marine Conservation Society.
This mineral sunscreen is from a certified B-corp (more info on what that means here), vegan, non-nano, cruelty free & family friendly!
For those of you in the US, Amanda from Donna Naturale has a great post on the same topic, with some recommendations for the states! Check it here.
I hope that this post was useful and that you’re considering switching to a more eco and reef-friendly sunscreen this year if you can! I’d love to hear any of your brand recommendations or thoughts in the comments, so please do let me know.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you can follow me on Instagram, @jessrigg_ for regular sustainable living content. I also have a podcast all about sustainable living – it’s available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, just search for ‘The Ethical Conversations Podcast‘.
Bye for now!