Sunscreen – Your Skin or the Reefs
I was sitting on the beach a few weeks ago watching a mother spraying sunscreen and getting some of it on her child. The rest went into the air, on someone else, on the beach. What a waste! Have you ever compared the price of spray sunscreen to lotion or creams? It’s more expensive, you get less applications out of it, it gets everywhere it’s not intended, and it’s obviously bad for the environment! Is the convenience of the sprays really worth all that? Okay… now that I’ve made my point about the sprays, let’s move onto the creams and lotions.
It’s endless, isn’t it. Everybody seems to be afraid to be ‘kissed’ by the sun these days. Is it really any worse than it was 30 years ago or do we just know more about it now? Either way, my blog (or rant) today is not about whether or not you should use it. By the way… you should. It’s about the dark side of sunscreen that we all seem to overlook.
Sunscreen is a good thing for people. It prevents ‘overexposure’ to the sun’s rays. Let me not judge and call them ‘harmful’ rays. I believe ‘overexposure’ is really the key word here; too much. But, if you’re reading this blog then you’re probably someone that loves the feel of the sun on your skin. So, are you going to avoid the sun? No, of course not! But, you know you must protect yourself, so you liberally apply sunscreen to your exposed skin. Great, now you’re ready to go outside and enjoy yourself. Before you head to the beach, just remember, that sunscreen you just applied is very bad for the ocean – it kills our precious coral reefs!
Without the reefs, many sea creatures would not survive and the ocean would suffer. If the ocean ‘dies’ so too will our planet! About 25% of all marine species live on or near coral reefs, almost 40 million people get their food from reef life, our reefs are the source of many medicines, and they protect our shores from erosion and storm damage – that’s just a part of it!
We as divers, snorkelers, and ocean lovers must do our part to protect the reefs. We learn about neutral buoyancy and how important it is to prevent us from damaging the reefs. We learn not to take anything from the reefs but photos and memories. We learn not to litter or leave anything behind. All of that is of limited value if we are introducing toxic chemicals into our oceans and reefs every time we enjoy them.
There is some good news in all of this: We don’t have to choose between protecting ourselves by using sunscreen and protecting our oceans and reefs. We can do both – there are safe, non-toxic and natural or organic sunscreens on the market (or if you’re up to the task, you can make your own). It is up to us to be more selective. Some reef safe products cost a little more, but consider that to be the cost of protecting the beauty that we see below, the food supply for millions of people, the health of our oceans, and our planet!
I’m not writing this to endorse any specific products, simply to help promote awareness o f this critical issue and provide information to help you choose to protect our reefs. So here are a few things to look for in choosing a safe sunscreen:
- Look for sunscreens that are tested and certified as biodegradable
- Zinc oxide is a non-toxic mineral that does NOT harm coral
- ALL ingredients should be non-toxic and natural or organic
- Avoid sunscreens that contain
- Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3)
- 4-methylbenzylidene campnor (4MBC)
- Octinoxate (ethylhexyl metoxycinnamate)