Most of us are familiar with the general benefits of sunscreen, especially in the summertime. Sunscreen prevents sunburns, reduces skin damage, and decreases your risk of skin cancer. It is important to use sunscreen regularly year-round, but did you know that certain types of sunscreen can be harmful to marine life? It’s true! Traditional chemical sunscreens can cause damage to marine life and environments, and therefore also cause a variety of harmful ripple effects to the systems and societies dependent on them.
Traditional chemical sunscreens usually contain oxybenzone and octinoxate; chemicals contributing to a variety of biological issues including birth defects, lower reproduction rates, stress, and growth prevention. This alters the state of many marine populations such as coral, mussels, fish, and more, leading to dangerous outcomes for their ecosystems and the future of marine life.
One excellent alternative to chemical sunscreens is mineral sunscreens. Unlike chemical sunscreens which absorb into the skin, mineral or physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin so they can reflect UVA and UVB rays. Their key ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are the only filters recognized as both safe and effective according to the FDA. With this information in mind, one way to ensure the use of mineral sunscreens over chemical sunscreens is to introduce a ban on those chemicals.
Many countries and some US states have already adopted a sunscreen ban. Hawaii was the first state to successfully enact a sunscreen ban in the U.S., making it impossible to buy sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate. Palau, Thailand, Bonaire, etc. have also adopted similar policies. Although more and more countries are taking action to promote an environmentally safe sunscreen agenda, the actual efficacy of these bans is yet to be determined because almost all have been implemented in the last year or two. Furthermore, the drawbacks of mineral sunscreen are also an issue.
The main issue with mineral sunscreen is its accessibility. One problem is that people with darker skin struggle to wear mineral sunscreen because it can cause a severe white cast or whitening appearance on the skin. Mineral sunscreens are also generally more expensive than chemical sunscreens because the mineral components are more expensive to manufacture than synthetic chemicals. The lack of accessibility raises the concern that placing a generalized ban may discourage individuals from using sunscreen, and as a result potentially increase the risk of skin cancer. However, some creative solutions to these issues are already in the works.
Rhode Island has come up with a unique solution: The RI Sunscreen Dispenser Program. They provide human-safe, environmentally-safe, sunscreens to the public for free, helping to eliminate some of the major drawbacks of mineral sunscreen whilst also protecting the environment. This coupled with a ban is a much more accessible solution.
If you're interested in making a sunscreen switch to help protect marine life, check out a list of accessible, marine-safe sunscreens below. Thank you for reading our post!
Mineral sunscreens with no white casts under $20:
Drugstore mineral sunscreens under $20:
Center for Biological Diversity. (2021, March 9). Hawai'i Senate bill bans harmful sunscreen chemicals. Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved 2022, from https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/hawaii-senate-bill-bans-harmful-sunscreen-chemicals-2021-03-09/
Dennis, B. (2021, October 27). Why the death of coral reefs could be devastating for millions of humans. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/09/why-the-death-of-coral-reefs-could-be-devastating-for-millions-of-humans/
Food and Drug Administration . (2019). Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the Counter Human Use . Federal Register, 84(38).
Richard, E. G. (Ed.). (2022, January 28). All About Sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/
Saunders, N. (2020, August 20). Shop the best sunscreens that won't leave a white cast on your skin. NBCNews.com. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/select/news/sunscreen-dark-skin-tones-ncna1237144
Schneider, S. L., & Lim, H. W. (2019). Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 80(1), 266–271. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2018.06.033
Srinivas, C. R., Shanmuga, S. C., & Rai, R. (2012). Update on Photoprotection, 57(5), 335–342. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.100472
State of Rhode Island: Ridem Rhode Island state parks. Rhode Island State Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved 2022, from https://www.riparks.com/sunscreen.php
Thailand bans coral-damaging sunscreens. Oceanographic. (n.d.). Retrieved 2022, from https://www.oceanographicmagazine.com/news/sunscreen-corals-thailand/