As I return from my trip to Belize, I am reminded once again the importance of sunscreen. My skin is fair, and a short amount of time in the sun can cause me to become severely sunburn. As my friend laid out in the sun becoming a golden bronzed goddess, my time was spent cowering in the shade, a towel wrapped around my whole body and a big hat for good measure.
While sunscreen is an essential part of my daily routine on and off the beach, it is important to also note what is in our sunscreen. There are two types of sunscreen that can be used: mineral and chemical. The difference is in the ingredients.
Mineral sunscreen uses titanium oxide and zinc oxide to combat UV rays, which are both naturally-occurring. Chemical sunscreen uses chemical compounds to fight UV rays. The most common are oxybenzone and octinoxate, but the list goes on. Chemical sunscreens make up a majority of commercial sunscreens we use today.
Studies have shown that chemical sunscreen is harmful to corals. These chemicals break down the natural defense barriers corals have, which leads to low reproduction rates, bleaching and eventually death. As people apply sunscreen and swim in the ocean, the sunscreen rubs off into the water. Hawaii alone is exposed to 6,000 tons of sunscreen each year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 60 million people go to the beach each year in the United States.
The use of mineral sunscreen is crucial efforts to support coral reef conservation. Whether we are at the beach or not, our use of sunscreen ends up in our water when we wash our face, and much of it will make its way into the ocean and be taken by currents throughout the world. Here are some small steps you can take to be reef-friendly:
Buy only mineral sunscreen. Take a look at the ingredients, and if the active ingredients are zinc or titanium oxide, it is reef-safe. While many people dislike these sunscreens for the white cast they tend to leave on the skin, more companies are coming out with better formulas. I recommend Supergoop or Coola, which I used during my trip.
Cover up when you can. If you’re doing water activities, opt for UPF clothing to protect you against UV rays. UPF clothing is easy to find, and significantly reduces both sunscreen in the ocean and the likelihood of sunburn. When diving, I wear a wetsuit to help save the environment and my money!
Get shady. Hats are not only a great accessory and trendy at the moment, but they provide great sun protection! Whether you’re grabbing brunch, going on a hike, or lying on the beach, bring a hat with you to reduce your sunscreen use.
*Cover photo by Sephora