Updated: Sep 11, 2022
Sunscreen is killing marine life at an alarming rate, but it's not just poisoning the sea. Learn how to shop and make educated purchases to save the ocean and your health.
The sunscreen ban
Hawaii is the first US state to implement legislation regarding the use of toxic chemicals in an effort to protect coral reefs and marine life. Hawaii Governor, David Ige, signed a bill prohibiting the sale and use of sunscreens that contain these killer chemicals beginning in 2021. Whether or not you live in Hawaii, the fact remains, these chemicals contribute to air pollution, land, animal, and waterway pollution, so don't wait to start making a difference.
Researchers found that coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to over 6,000 tons of toxic sunscreen every year.
The ultimate offenders
Conventional sunscreen brands (i.e. Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic) are laden with toxic chemicals that are not only bad for your health, but research has shown they're also killing off marine life. In fact, the two chemical ingredients that are specifically outlawed, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are so potent they're destroying coral reefs at even very low concentrations. To humans, these chemicals are endocrine disruptors, they cause hormonal imbalances which lead to bigger, more complex health issues.
The fastest way to change is to participate in the movement toward using cleaner, safer products.
Sadly, these are only two dirty ingredients in the spotlight. Other chemicals that research has shown to disrupt human health and marine life include this laundry list:
Formaldehyde (Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin and Hydroxymethylglycinate):
Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate)
Sodium Lauryl (laureth sulfate, SLS)
How to be marine life and reef-safe compliant
To be reef-safe compliant, you need to avoid these two chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, but I'm not one to stop there. Don't wait for science and legislation to play catch up, make a safe bet by eliminating all dirty chemicals that are linked to disease and death!
Buy from a mission-driven company who provides safe and proven alternatives to harmful products.
Revise the way you shop
It’s good practice to research the ingredients or reference the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Database before you buy. Conventional sunscreen ingredients typically score high for toxicity in the EWG Database. For example, this Banana Boat EWG Ranking = 7 (10 being the most toxic).
So you know what ingredients and brands to avoid, now let's explore what ingredients and brands to look for! I recommend using a brand that has a UV blocker like a non-nano zinc oxide, and per my typical PSA, your best bet is to buy from a mission-driven company who provides safe and proven alternatives to harmful products.
Top sunscreen brand picks
Badger is a small, family-owned and operated company. I appreciate the integrity in their mission to blend the finest ingredients including organic plant extracts, exotic oils, beeswax, and minerals to make safe, effective products. EWG Ranking = 1
Active Sunscreen Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 22.5%
Base Sunscreen Ingredients: Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Beeswax, Organic Orange Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Tangerine Oil, Sunflower Vitamin E, Organic Vanilla Extract & Organic Seabuckthorn Extract.
Here's an SPF spray, but All Good also has lotions and sticks as well. Their company's mission is to live in harmony with nature and "do right by the Mothership". They focus on making products and sunscreens that are body and reef-friendly and they’re fierce advocates of protecting marine life and coral reefs.
Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice*, Bentonite, Bisabolol*, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower*, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract*, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Caprylyl Glycol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil*, Cellulose Gum, Cetearyl Alcohol, Coco-Glucoside, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil*, Jojoba Esters, Mauritia Flexuosa (Buriti) Fruit Oil*, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil*, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Rosa Canina (Rose Hip) Fruit Extract*, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit Extract*, Tocopherol, Water.
The founder of Raw Elements grew up as a life guard, which is how he discovered the dangers of chemical sunscreens. He was so horrified at what he learned, he went on a quest to find a safe and effective solution, but one just did not exist. So, there in turn, Raw Elements was born.
Active Ingredient: Non Nano Zinc Oxide (23%)
Inactive Ingredients: Sunflower Oil*, Green Tea*, Black Tea*, Coffee Bean*, Hemp Seed Oil*, Cocoa Butter*, Mango Butter**, Beeswax*, Rosemary Oil Extract**, Vitamin E**
Mr. Holistic Heckler uses 100% Pure's Yerba Mate Mist 30 SPF. It sprays on easily, but don't be surprised as with any zinc SPF, it's not going to rub in exactly like your conventional sunscreen. But it is safe, proven, and effective. If you prefer body sticks or lotions, there are also a variety of safe options here.
Active ingredients: Zinc 12 %
Inactive ingredients: Bentonite, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Coco Glucoside, Vegetable Glycerin, Heptyl Undecylenate, Ilex Paraguariensis (Yerba Mate) Leaf Extract, Jojoba Ester, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Water
Now that you're a safe, educated shopper, let's take a look at a few other ways you can safely SPF...
Make SPF a fashion statement
If you know me, you know I love an excuse to wear a big hat, flowing kimono, or vibrant cover up to not only protect my skin, but also to make myself feel good. Studies have shown that what you wear directly influences your self-esteem. That being said, covering up, wearing hats, and finding shady spots are other preventatives you can take to protect your skin.
So why not wear something that protects you and makes you feel like royalty?
Eat your sunscreen
Nutrient-dense foods will help protect your skin from the sun, from the inside out.
Avocados, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes (lycopene and beta carotene), flaxseed (omega 3s), leafy greens, and almonds are just a few foods that can prevent sun damage.
As much as we all hate moderation and being reminded of its importance, it's worth a mention to emphasize the importance of practicing moderation when it comes to protecting your health and well-being. Remember if you're going out in the sun, your skin only needs about 20 minutes of full sunlight to get your vitamin D. After that, you should prepare to start protecting your skin if you're in danger of sunburn.