It's important to protect your skin from UV damage by wearing sunscreen daily, but some sunscreen ingredients are risky to our health and the environment. Here's what those ingredients are doing, and how you can make better choices when shopping for protection.
Sunscreen's Impact on Coral Reefs
Coral reefs, the "rainforests of the oceans", nurture millions of unusual animal and plant species (along with important medicines we have yet to discover), protect coastlines from storms and erosion, and even remove and recycle excess carbon.
But, these amazing ecosystems are increasingly threatened. The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives found that by promoting viral infection, sunscreens potentially play an important role in coral bleaching. It is estimated that up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen is released annually by tourists in reef areas, and because sunscreens are often petroleum based, they don’t biodegrade.
When chemicals in sunscreen come in contact with reefs, the coral becomes stressed, pushing out the algae living inside and leaving behind a vulnerable skeletal structure. As coral reefs lose their biological inhabitants due to toxins, pollution and increased temperatures due to global warming, they also lose their pigments, becoming “bleached.”
EarthShare member groups like Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council have found that common chemicals like Oxybenzane and nanoparticles in sunscreens also pose health risks. Because technology often outpaces regulation, the FDA has not yet been able to fully evaluate the possible health impacts of these chemicals.
A 2008 study from the Center for Disease Control found that 97% of Americans had traces of oxybenzane, which has been linked to babies with low birth weight, hormone disruption, cellular damage and even allergies. Oxybenzane is used in many cosmetics to encourage absorption, but it is most commonly found in sunscreen.
Nanoparticles are harmful to the environment because they “are highly chemically reactive, are long-lasting, and have the capacity to linger in the environment.” They also damage potentially beneficial natural microbes in the environment, according to an article by Scientific American.
How to Protect Your Skin, the Healthy Way!
So, what can a health conscious individual do if they still want to protect themselves from sun damage? First, make sure to always bring along other sun protection like sunglasses, hats and umbrellas when you know you’re going to be outside during the midday hours.
Second, read about the risks of toxic chemicals in sunscreen and other personal care products, and buy (and advocate) for better alternatives using these guides from Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth.