Is Your Sun Cream Killing The Coral Reef?

When it comes to skincare, we all know there is one product we should be wearing every single day. Of course, we’re talking about SPF, a crucial step in protecting your skin from both UV damage and signs of ageing. However, have you ever thought about how this daily habit might be affecting the environment, especially under the sea.

A quick SPF refresher

Sun protection is either chemical-based (absorbs UV rays, converts them into heat and then releases them) or physical-based (sits on the surface of the skin and reflects the UV rays). It’s the ingredients used in chemical-based sun creams that can negatively impact the delicate marine ecosystem, and according to Green People, 10,000 tons of UV filters are produced globally each year. Considering that UV filters are now in a whole host of beauty products beyond sun cream, including moisturisers and make-up, it’s not surprising.

“The impact is two fold,” Dr Michael Sweet, Associate Professor in Aquatic Biology at University of Derby, explains. “UV filters can reach coastal waters either directly as a consequence of washing off skin when swimming and/or indirectly from wastewater treatment plants.” Yep, this means that your sun cream could be impacting marine life regardless of whether you’ve just been for a dip.

Coral reefs are taking the hit

Dr Sweet is keen to emphasise that studies into this topic are still in their infancy but one thing is for certain: the link between chemical filters and coral damage. In particular, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (known as Octinoxate) and Benzophenone-3 (known as Oxybenzone). Taking into account that around one-fifth of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost or severely damaged, and a further 35 per cent could be lost within the next 10-40 years (The World Counts), this is not good news.

While Octinoxate and Oxybenzone specifically have been linked to coral bleaching (a process of algae loss which can lead to coral death), these chemicals have other detrimental effects too. “Studies suggest certain sun cream ingredients can also increase the abundance of viruses, deform coral larvae and damage corals reproductive success,” Professor Sweet commented.

What we can do

It certainly makes for depressing reading, but all is not lost. In July 2018, the US state of Hawaii signed a bill that will ban over-the-counter sun creams containing Oxybenzone and Octinoxate being sold from the start of 2021. Key West, a city in Southern Florida followed suit in early 2019, and other coral-rich areas are likely to take note in the near future.

In the UK, there’s an increasing choice of physical SPF products and sea-friendly formulas. REN, the clean skincare brand pioneering a number of sustainable initiatives, recently launched Clean Screen Mineral SPF30 – a mattifying mineral sun cream formula branded as ‘reef-friendly.’ Similarly, brands in the natural and organic sphere—such as aforementioned Green PeopleBiosolis and COOLA, offer a large range of mineral formulas.

This article first appeared on ELLE.