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Try an Eco-Friendly Sunscreen: Ocean Corals and Your Skin Will Thank You

Updated on August 1, 2014

What You Should Know About Biodegradable Sunscreen, Coral Reefs and Your Health

Each summer, beach lovers all over the world head to their favorite sandy shores slathered in sunscreen that is supposed to protect us from skin cancer, wrinkles, and other dangers of exposure to the sun. But the lotions and sprays we apply to protect our skin may very well be killing our oceans - and may not be saving us from the dangers we're trying to avoid. Fortunately, there are eco-friendly biodegradable sunscreens that are healthy for both our planet and our bodies. Here's what you should know about sunscreen, oceans, skin cancer and choosing a sunscreen that's right for you.

(Image: © Tarragona | Dreamstime.com)

Most people probably don't think about protecting coral reefs when choosing their sunscreen, but they DO think about protecting themselves from skin cancer. After all, that's the reason we're all slathering ourselves with sunscreen and sunblock, right? But what if the lotions and sprays we're putting on our body are dangerous to our health and to that of the world's already-endangered coral reefs? That may very well be the case with many sunscreens.

A 2008 report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives indicated that four common ingredients found in sunscreen can wreak havoc on fragile reef ecosystems. The chemical ingredients cause dormant viruses within a specific type of algae to awaken and replicate until the algae explodes. Coal reefs depend on this algae, known as zooxanthellae, to provide energy through photosynthesis and contribute to the vibrant colors associated with reefs. Without this symbiotic algae, the reefs "bleach" (turn white) and die. Even low levels of sunscreen were found to activate the viruses. The amount of sunscreen typically used by swimmers could completely bleach coral in just four days.

Worldwide, 10 percent of the ocean's coral reefs are at risk of coral bleaching from sunscreen, according to the report, which said 4000 to 6000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers into oceans each year.

This correlation between coral bleaching and chemical sunscreen has led to the mandatory use of eco-friendly biodegradable sunscreen in some areas, such as the popular Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park (Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel) in Mexico. But, sadly, many people remain unaware of the dangers sunscreen can represent to our oceans.

(Image provided by AllPosters)

coral reef
coral reef

Selecting a Sunscreen That's Good for You, Good for the Oceans

EWG Sunscreen Guide can help you decide

Fortunately, what's good for the coral reefs may also be good for your body. Many sunscreens contain chemicals that not only won't help prevent skin cancer, but could actually be carcinogenic themselves.

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization whose "team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and our own laboratory tests to expose threats to your health and the environment, and to find solutions." Each year, the EWG publishes a sunscreen guide, listing ingredients for consumers to see and highlighting the pros and cons of each product.

The guide rates over 1400 products with SPF, including beach and sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms and then gives a score on a 1-10 scale (with 1 being highest) and a color-colored rating (green, yellow or red).

The organization's guide is meant mainly to protect consumers from health hazards of chemical ingredients, but several of the products that earn top ratings from the EWG for being the safest for humans are also biodegradable sunscreens that are safe for corals.

(Image of coral reef by Daviddarom on Wikimedia Commons)

Per unit area, coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment - NOAA

And the Winners Are....

Biodegradable sunscreens to protect you and the planet

The eco-friendly sunscreens below are all good choices for both people and our oceans. They earned a "green" rating (high score of 1 or 2 out of a 10-point system) in the 2010 or 2011 EWG Sunscreen Guide, and they are eco-friendly products that can be used at any beach, including those such as Cozumel's national marine park that only allows biodegradable sunscreen.

Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+ - Top-rated sunscreen for oceans and your health

The 2010 EWG Sunscreen Guide ranked Soleo Organics a high-flying 1, the top score on their scale.

Soleo Organics Sunscreen, 2.8-Ounce Box
Soleo Organics Sunscreen, 2.8-Ounce Box

This organic sunscreen contains ingredients such as natural vitamin E oil, grapeseed and sunflower seed oil, beeswax and flower extracts. It contains 22% zinc oxide and is rated excellent by the EWG for UVA protection and good for UVB protection.

 

Caribbean Solutions Sol Guard 25 - Runner-up sunscreen

This sunscreen earned a rating of 2 from the EWG, which is still in the "recommended" range, but obviously not as high as the ones ranked 1. It earns a "Good" rating for UVA protection but only a "Moderate" for UVB protection.

Caribbean Solutions Sol Guard SPF 25, 6 Ounce
Caribbean Solutions Sol Guard SPF 25, 6 Ounce

From Amazon: Natural Sol guard SPF 25 is a non-toxic, blend of natural skin conditioning ingredients and natural sunscreens. This product will not come off in the water, and therefore, divers, snorkelers and water enthusiasts will have positive results from its use. It contains 9% titanium dioxide and 3% transparent zinc oxide.

Ingredients

9% Titanium Dioxide and 3% transparent Zinc Oxide

 

UV Natural Sunscreen SPF30+ - Another 1 rating from the EWB

This sunscreen also earned a 1 rating from the EWB, and was rated excellent for its balance of UVA and UVB protection.

UV Natural - Adult SPF 30 Sunscreen (5.29oz)
UV Natural - Adult SPF 30 Sunscreen (5.29oz)

From Amazon: Helps prevent sunburn. Higher SPF gives more sun protection. Retains SPF after 80 minutes in water

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (24.8%) (Sunscreen)

Inactive Ingredients: Vitis Vinifera Grape Seed Oil, Capric/Caprylic Stearic Triglyceride, Silica, Zinc Stearate, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (Green Tea), Vitis Vinifera Grape Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Iron Oxides, Lavendula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Fusanus Spicatus Wood Oil (Australian sandalwood), Pogostemon Cabin Oil (patchouli oil)

Indications

Helps prevent sunburn

Higher SPF gives more sun protection

Retains SPF after 80 minutes in water

Ingredients

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (24.8%) (Sunscreen); Inactive Ingredients: Vitis Vinifera Grape Seed Oil, Capric/Caprylic Stearic Triglyceride, Silica, Zinc Stearate, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract (Green Tea), Vitis Vinifera Grape Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Iron Oxides, Lavendula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Fusanus Spicatus Wood Oil (Australian sandalwood), Pogostemon Cabin Oil (patchouli oil)

 

20% of the world's coral reefs are damaged beyond recovery - NOAA

A Short Video About Sunscreen and Corals

This short news report discusses the problems of sunscreen and ocean corals.

Coral Reef Adventure on Blu-ray

If you'd like to learn more about coral reefs, this IMAX film explores the beautiful underwater world of these amazing ecosystems.

IMAX: Coral Reef Adventure [Blu-ray]
IMAX: Coral Reef Adventure [Blu-ray]

From Amazon: Take a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the South Pacific for a spectacular IMAX adventure. Joy, ecstasy, a spiritual high: these words describe the exhilaration of diving a pristine coral reef, and ocean explorers Howard and Michele Hall bring their love of the ocean into action. With Jean-Michael Cousteau, deep reef scientist Richard Pyle and Fijian diver Rusi Vulakoro, they explore and capture on film the dazzling underwater world of coral reefs, magical places here on Earth. This tropical excursion through the South Pacific will surprise and delight you as you fall in love with the reefs, and your heart will ache at the tragic, irretrievable loss of these fragile worlds.

 

We all know that sunscreens can prevent sunburn. But there is no consensus about any other benefits the products may - or may not - provide, including whether these commonly used lotions and sprays can help stop skin aging or prevent skin cancer. The 2010 EWG sunscreen report cites these statistics to show the confusion surrounding the benefits of sunscreen:

- Even though more people use sunscreen than ever before, the incidence of skin cancer in the United States and other countries continues to rise (Aceituno-Madera 2010; Jemal 2008; Osterlind 1992).

- A number of studies conducted in the 1990s report higher, not lower, incidence of the deadliest form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, among frequent sunscreen users (Autier 1995; Westerdahl 2000; Wolf 1994).

- To date, studies show that regular sunscreen use reduces risk for squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC) but not other types of skin cancer. SCC, a slow-growing, treatable cancer, is estimated to account for just 16% of all skin cancers annually.

None of these facts suggest you shouldn't use sunscreen at all. In fact, the EWG report notes, "An effective sunscreen prevents more damage than it causes." But not all sunscreens are effective, and some may contain chemicals that have their own health risks. For instance, the FDA is investigating a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, which is found in 41 percent of sunscreens. FDA data suggests vitamin A may actually elevate skin cancer risk.

(Image provided by AllPosters)

Another Way to Protect Yourself - UV Shirts and Hats - Clothes can offer UV protection

One way to avoid the risks to yourself and the environment that can be caused by some suncreens is to wear clothes designed to filter UV rays. There are now a variety of shirts, pants and hats designed to block UV rays. Below is a sample from Amazon. You can find more by searching their clothing category for "UV protection."


Image provided by AllPosters

Did You Learn Something New About Biodegradable Sunscreen or Coral Reefs? - Please leave a comment in the guestbook

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    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      I did not know that. I have to slather sunscreen on as my English skin is so white it's almost blue, and although I don't spend much time on beaches it's something to be aware of.

    • NausetViews profile image

      Kristen 4 years ago from Boston

      Thank you for educating me on this very important topic. Now I know that there are great sunscreens for me and the environment.

    • profile image

      sojourner-1 4 years ago

      This is a great informative lens. I was not aware of the connection to coral reef.

    • LiliLove profile image

      LiliLove 4 years ago

      I did, thanks for sharing!

    • leesholden profile image

      Lee 4 years ago from Derbyshire, UK

      I did - I knew very little before visiting your lens. Thanks for this

    • indigomoth profile image

      indigomoth 4 years ago from New Zealand

      It never even occurred to me that sunscreen might be bad for the oceans. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    • newbizmau profile image

      Guided Abundance 5 years ago from Mobile, AL

      Never thought of this. From now on I'll never buy harmful sunscreens. I pledge.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      Yes, I had no idea sunscreens could damage coral. Thanks for highlighting this issue - and making great suggestions to combat the problem. I love your lens, I've featured it on mine: https://hubpages.com/holidays/green-solutions-for-... . Thanks for sharing.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      I think I'd like to try this on my next trip to The Bahamas.

    • Nithya Venkat profile image

      Nithya Venkat aka Vellur 5 years ago from Dubai

      Yes I did learn useful facts. Great lens.

    • KandH profile image

      KandH 5 years ago

      Thanks, I needed this!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I learned a lot from this lens. I never knew that chemicals in sunscreen could damage reefs. Great lens.

    • profile image

      mcampbell123 5 years ago

      learned a lot. Please comment back on my lens

    • mattcut profile image

      mattcut 5 years ago

      thank you for this lens!!!!

    • profile image

      sheezie77 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens, great job!

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      I recently went for snorkeling and got some sunburn at my shoulder and back. I think I will need a waterproof sunscreen.

    • profile image

      jammarti 5 years ago

      Very informative lens. It's good to be knowledgeable with this kind of things.

    • profile image

      Natural_Skin_Care 5 years ago

      You could actually be hurting your skin depending on which sunscreen you choose. Think organic.

    • Anastacia EG profile image

      Anastacia Gutierrez 5 years ago

      What an informative lens. It's great to see writing that educates as well as provides such succinct steps for action. Kudos for bringing the issue to more people's attention. And thanks for the great resources!

    • hartworks lm profile image

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      Yes, I did! I knew the general picture but not the details.

    • profile image

      fryroost 5 years ago

      Worthy Information!

      Healthy Tips

    • peggygallyot profile image

      peggygallyot 5 years ago

      Never new there was such a sunscreen.

    • profile image

      cleanyoucar 5 years ago

      awesome information, thanks for sharing!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is really useful to know. I just never bothered to research.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is really useful to know. I just never bothered to research.

    • profile image

      bulkvotes 5 years ago

      Good Information

    • wolvyz profile image

      wolvyz 5 years ago

      Great products on this informative lens.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great information - adding to my eco lenses *blessed

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I never made the connection before between sun screen in the ocean and the damage to coral reef. Thank you for the information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great info!

    • bwet profile image

      bwet 5 years ago

      wow very interesting lens. Didn't know that sunscreens pose such a big problem to our already troubled coral reefs.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Great article! Thank you very much for this valuable info. :)

    • McBub-Squidoo profile image

      McBub-Squidoo 5 years ago

      Yes, I have. Thanks for your important information.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Yes. Thank you for publishing this important info. Another effective sunscreen is wearing high spf clothing.

    • kpp2385 profile image

      kpp2385 5 years ago

      Eco friendly sun screen is an exceptional idea. I am in 100% support, very nice.

    • mjtaylor lm profile image

      mjtaylor lm 5 years ago

      I very much appreciate and support what you've done with this lens! Thank you!

    • RCGraphicsDesign profile image

      RCGraphicsDesign 5 years ago

      What a great lens. Sunscreens are great to not burn but don't do much for skin cancer. But you are correct in the damage they do to reefs. Very informative.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I think biodegradable sunscreen is a good idea, I hadn't heard of this before. Living in Florida as I did for a while, you couldn't go to the beach without using sunscreen, and the volumes that people use on a busy beach must have an environmental impact. Good information, blessed.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 5 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Good information about the impact of sunscreen on the coral reef. The numbers are scary :(

      I try to avoid putting cream as much as possible: long sleeves, hat, pants, sunglasses, so I have littler skin exposed. Usually I need just a bit on the nose and face.

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 5 years ago from Idaho

      Sunscreen is so important, great lens...Blessed!

    • fluffyclouds profile image

      fluffyclouds 6 years ago

      Awesome ideas and very informative!

    • mgassistant lm profile image

      mgassistant lm 6 years ago

      I agree about the importance of this.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I love your ideals. Keep it up!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      You have some cool ideals here! Keep it up!

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      Hadn't really connected sunscreen with damage to ocean eco-system - well done for highlighting the issue. I have to say that I never, ever put sunscreen on my kids. I always cover them up and make them wear hats (after getting a nice healthy dose of Vit D sunshine, of course). It seems that the increase in sunscreen correlates with the increase in skin cancers. Also... I read somewhere that using non-dairy spreads made with veg oil thins the human cell membrane and makes it more prone to damage. Eat butter!

      Blessed by a Squid angel.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      Great information here. Really useful. Thanks. Congrats on your purple star

    • Laniann profile image

      Laniann 7 years ago

      Congratulations on your Purple Star award! You have shared some very important information that we all need to know. I was aware of the damage of some sunscreens to skin but I didn't know about the damage we are causing to the Coral Reefs.

    • vanidiana24 profile image

      vanidiana24 7 years ago

      Great article! We all should know about this and be aware of those tiny little things we do that actually hurt the nature!

    • LisaDH profile image
      Author

      LisaDH 7 years ago

      @OhMe: Thanks for the good thoughts and for featuring this page on the Summer Sunshine Award Nominees lens.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Yes, I certainly did learn something new about Biodegradable Sunscreen and Coral Reefs and appreciate the heads up very much. I had not ever thought about the danger of these sunscreens to the environment. This lens is featured on Squidoo's Summer Sunshine Award Nominees with your charity Earth Justice. I also nominated this lens. Good Luck

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 7 years ago from California

      OH MY GOODNESS.

      I had no idea. And I am SO very pale -- I have to wear sunscreen all the time, especially since I'm in California!

      And thank goodness there is a workable alternative. Sometimes we are between a rock and a hard place trying to find an eco-friendly solution, but it looks like that UV Natural will work even for my near-albino complexion.

      Thank you, lisadh.