WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU STEP ON TO THE BEACH? Breathe in the fresh salty air then apply sunscreen of course! Unfortunately, the act of protecting our skin from the sun's harmful UV rays is proving to be detrimental to coral reef health.
Scientific studies have shown that the widely used chemicals in sunscreen, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are absorbed by coral and can interfere with their reproduction and growth cycles which leads to bleaching. This degradation of coral reefs is most evident in highly visited tourist areas such as Hawaii. It has reached such a critical point that the governor has signed a bill that will ban products containing these two chemicals from being sold beginning January 2021.
Sunscreen and other chemical wash-off through showering and swimming plays a bigger role than climate change in damaging coral reefs.
When we swim in the ocean, the chemicals wash off our bodies into the water. Even if we don't swim while at the beach, the simple act of showering sends the chemicals down the drain where they ultimately find their way into waterways and the ocean. Also, excess spray from aerosol lotions falls onto the sand which then washes into the water.
So, what's a bathing beauty to do?
Fortunately, there are several precautions we can take to protect our skin as well as reduce our negative marine environmental impact...
1. Choose your sunscreen wisely.
First, avoid lotions that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Only use mineral sun block such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that are non-nano in size because smaller particles can be ingested by coral. There are new studies that show that titanium dioxide may be the most reef-safe choice at present. A good option we recently tried is Badger Sport Sunscreen-SPF 35. This sunscreen is pretty thick and goopy making it a little challenging to spread, but it lasted through multiple dips in the ocean and prevented our light skin from getting burnt.
2. A great pair of sunglasses is a must!
If you're in the market for new shades, check out the many stylish eco-friendly brands available. One such company is MODO who's ECO collection has frames created from 95% recycled materials. In addition to selling beautiful glasses, they provide free eye care to children in need through their Help a Child See program and have planted 2 million trees with their One Frame-One Tree initiative.
3. You can't go wrong with a fabulous hat!
Make a style statement and more importantly protect the skin on your face and neck with a cute hat. Just like eye wear, there are many brands who create products that are both sustainable and go great with a bikini. Tula brand boasts their hats provide a sun protection factor of UPF50+, are packable, and made from sustainable fibers. They are also a member of the Fair Trade Association.
According to The American Cancer Society, "A hat with at least a 2-3 inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas that are often exposed to intense sun, such as ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp."