I don’t think I need to remind anyone that spring break is just around the corner.  For many, that means long awaited trips to sun and fun, trips to the ocean shore.  However, many unsuspecting vacation goers are the cause of much damage to our oceans from a most unexpected source:  sunscreen!

We all know the importance of protecting our skin from the sun’s harmful rays.  What is newly being discussed is what chemicals most safely do this.  There are basically two types of sunscreen, chemical or mineral.  The FDA has raised concerns over chemical sunscreens being absorbed into the skin and the dangers involved.  While this is definitely a major concern, it is not the focus here for a “green moment.” 

The concern here is the damage done by these chemicals to the environment.  Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the two most commonly used effective ingredients in sunscreens.  Unfortunately, these chemicals also cause deformities, bleaching, DNA damage, and even death to coral reefs. 

The damage or death of a coral reef has a long reaching impact.  Coral reefs create protection and shelter for many species of fish and sea life.  They protect coast lines from waves and strong currents.  They also act as a filtration system for the water as many corals ingest particulates. Not only does coral filter the water, but coral reefs also control carbon dioxide as coral’s limestone shell is formed by processing carbon dioxide.  This in turn affects all living things on Earth.

In response to this destruction, both Hawaii and Key West Florida have banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.  In their place, people are asked to switch to mineral sunscreens, those containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide.  Mineral sunscreens have been deemed to be a safer alternative for both people and environment.

An additional issue comes with aerosol sunscreens.  Because the spray cannot be completely controlled, the sunscreen leaves residues on the sand which is then washed into the ocean.  For people, the danger is breathing in the sunscreen, where it then coats the lungs.

As you enjoy your days in the sun, safely protect your skin.  Zinc oxide, titanium oxide, sun protection fabrics can all do this.  Please be aware how your, often well-meaning, behaviors can have a major impact on the environment.