Summer is well and truly in situ and just you try and stop us heading outside to enjoy that British sun. Without sounding like the voice of doom, we all know by now that wearing suncream is the best way to protect your skin from harmful UV rays that can cause skin damage, premature skin-ageing and, in some cases, cancer, but research reveals certain SPF formulas can actually harm marine life and damage coral reefs too. Granted, we're unlikely to be visiting the sea or said coral reefs any time soon, but did you know that it is still important to switch to reef-safe sunscreens even if you are not planning to take a dip? 'Sun cream chemicals can also enter the environment from drains, as water treatment plants are not designed to remove them' say Green People.
To that end, here's the lowdown on how your SPF choices have the power to negatively impact the world around us, and how we can better look out for the environment. Scroll down to browse our favourite eco-friendly SPF buys.
In May 2018, Hawaii became the first US state to ban suncreams that harm coral. The bill focused on two chemicals - oxybenzone and octinoxate – found in over 3,500 sun protection products, that have been directly linked to coral damage.
David Delport, brand ambassador for REN Clean Skincare, fills us in on how these chemicals damage marine life, and what to look for in a reef-friendly SPF.
What Ingredients To Avoid And Look Out For
Octinoxate and oxybenzone are the two most recognised ingredients, found in chemical suncreams, that can seriously harm coral reef.
‘Both these chemicals work on the skin by absorbing harmful UV rays and converting them into heat. But, in the ocean, these chemicals display high toxicity in low volumes to zooxanthellae - the microorganisms that live within coral that give it its characteristic colour,’ explains Delport.
When zooxanthellae die, coral bleaching occurs (the number 1 cause of coral death). ‘Coral bleaching renders coral colourless and without a source of photosynthesised food.’ This can be catastrophic, as Australian Marine Conservation Society states at least a quarter of the world’s marine life needs coral reefs for some part of their life cycle.
It's also important to say no to Zinc oxide in suncreams. 'Reactions with chemical pollutants and heat or sunlight may cause the release of Zinc ions which are highly toxic to aquatic life, with sea plants and animals being exposed to huge amounts over their lifetimes' say Green People.
Gender-bending chemicals that mimic the effect of oestrogen can have a dramatic effect on aquatic life, for example, turning fish into hermaphrodites. Certain sunscreens promote viral infections in coral reefs, contributing to coral bleaching in areas with low water renewal where many tourists visit.
– Charlotte Vøhtz, Founder of Green People.
The Difference Between Chemical And Mineral Sun Lotions
Suncreams tend to fall into two different groups – chemical and mineral. Chemical suncreams work by absorbing harmful UV rays and converting them into heat, while mineral (or physical) suncreams, normally powered by zinc or titanium oxide, sit on the skin’s surface to deflect the UV rays.
Try to avoid sunscreens that contain octinoxate and oxybenzone. Look for sunscreens that say ‘non-nano’ when referring to the minerals in them, which means the particles aren’t small enough to harm marine life. Any particles under 100 nanometers can be ingested by certain sea creatures.
As Delport says, 'There is no true environmentally ‘safe’ SPF as these chemicals don’t belong in the ocean. REN made a daily SPF using a non-nano mineral that we believe is the best option for skin protection, especially sensitive skin.’
Are Reef-Safe Suncreens As Effective As Regular Ones?
‘Reef safe is an unregulated term and only implies the formula does not contain the chemical SPF’s known to kill zooxanthellae,’ states Delport.
Other factors to consider are whether the SPF is water-resistant as this means it’s more likely to stick to your skin then wash off into the ocean. Additionally, a cream over a spray is better as a spray tends to end up on the sand – which ultimately ends up in the sea. You can also opt for protective clothing whilst doing water-sports which will further prevent harmful ingredients from entering the water.
Shop The Best Reef-Safe And Eco-Friendly SPF Buys
Reef-Safe Eco-Friendly Sun Care
Ideal for oily-skin types, Ren's Clean Screen SPF helps keep shine at bay with mattifying rice starch. Antioxidants also protect against free radical damage.
Non-toxic and biodegradable, Caudalie's Milky Sun Spray protects nature as well as your skin. The formula does not include octinoxate, octocrylene, nanoparticle filters, oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Coola's Mineral Cucumber Face SPF 30, is completely invisible and sinks straight in without any greasy-residue, leaving skin matte. The formula contains evening primrose, acai oil and plankton extract to soothe, tone and strengthen sun-soaked skin.
Suitable for sensitive skins, this SPF is scent-free, 84% organic and packed with natural antioxidants. Plus, it's water-repellant so will stick to skin in the sea, and 30p from every sale is donated to The Marine Conservation Society.
A vegan SPF option that is infused with shea butter and jojoba oil to nourish skin as it protects it.
This non-greasy, non-sticky, invisible and subtly scented sun protection water, holds a biodegradable, non-ecotoxic formula, preventing damage to the environment.
With no added oxybenzone or octinoxate, this sun screen is safe not only for our bodies but for our environment.
Bondi are doing their bit to protect the coral reefs – these products don't include Oxybenzone and Octinoxate which are believed to contribute to coral bleaching.