Summer has arrived and that means you are spending more time outside than before. It also means you need to take precautions to protect your skin from damage from the sun. Staying out of the sun is an option, but not always the funnest or easiest option. That’s when you reach for your favorite Eco-friendly sunscreen. Sunscreen is your first line of defense against the harmful effects of the sun, but just because it’s good for you doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. Sunscreen can include ingredients that are harmful to one of the most common areas you’d wear sunscreen too: the beach. So before you reach for that sunscreen learn what you need to watch out for to ensure it’s giving you the protection you need, without harming the fragile ocean ecosystems that are vital to our lives and enjoyment of nature.
Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen
There are two main types of sunscreen filters that provide protection from the sun’s rays: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens contain filters like titanium dioxide and zinc that work by physically blocking the sun’s UVA and UVB rays from reaching your skin. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand, use chemical filters including Octylcrylen, Avobenzone and Octinoxate. These chemical filters protect the skin by absorbing the harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun.
Each sunscreen type has benefits and drawbacks, and yes, there are some sunscreens that do include both physical and chemical protective filters. These have properties from both their chemical and physical filters. Chemical sunscreens require a wait time of around 30 minutes to become effective (that means you’ve got to plan ahead and put it on BEFORE you head for the beach!). Physical sunscreens often leave a white cast, leaving you looking like a ghost. Chemical sunscreens can offer more protection against both UVA and UVB rays, however, they can also be more irritating to skin.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Coral around the world is dying, most notably the Great Barrier Reef. It’s not alone. One of the contributors to coral bleaching is some of the ingredients commonly found in sunscreens. These ingredients include:
- 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor
Reef safe sunscreen simply means that the sunscreen does not include any ingredients that have been found to harm coral. This is more important than ever before, as coral reefs are facing an onslaught of troubles including warming global ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and pollution.
In an effort to protect the natural world and water ecosystems many popular tourist destinations including Hawaii and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, now require the use of biodegradable and/or reef safe sunscreen. You can tell if your sunscreen is biodegradable by looking at the ingredient list. In order for it to be considered biodegradable it must not contain:
- Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
- Cetyl dimethicone
If any of those items are on the ingredient list of your sunscreen it’s not biodegradable. In short, if your sunscreen is a chemical filter based sunscreen or a mix of chemical and physical filters it is NOT biodegradable. Sunscreens which include the physical filters of Zinc and Titanium Dioxide are biodegradable.
What to Look For In Your Eco-Friendly Sunscreen
Your perfect sunscreen protects you from the sun’s harmful effects, doesn’t irritate your skin, and doesn’t harm the environment. While shopping for your next sunscreen purchase, keep the following checklist in mind:
- Protects against UVA and UVB Rays
- Does not include: Oxybenzone, Butylparaben, Octinoxate, or 4-Methylbezylindine Camphor
- For sensitive skin & children: uses physical filters like titanium dioxide and zinc.
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Recommended Eco-Friendly, Reef-Safe Sunscreens
What’s your favorite Eco-friendly sunscreen?