By Evanthia Vasiliki Tagari,
Mercury rises, the body meets its darkest version and the mood for a cool dip peaks. The above could not describe anything less than the most beloved time of the year, the summer. But because the sun hides many proven dangers, sunscreen has been for years the only ally of our carelessness. But what exactly is sunscreen and how does it work? According to the Hellenic Chemical Society, the term sunscreen refers to protection filters that block the harmful effects of UVA and UVB radiation on the skin. They scatter sunlight or turn it into another less dangerous one. Sunscreens are preparations that come in the form of cream, ointment, emulsion, foam and spray and can be contained in two types of filters, natural and chemical. Natural sunscreens act as a natural barrier over our skin, reflecting the sun’s rays away from our body. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain synthetic compounds that absorb ultraviolet light before it reaches our skin.
How does the use of sunscreen relate to the sustainability of marine ecosystems?
In 2005, scientists first studied coral reefs that seemed to decline for an inexplicable reason and discovered that they suffered toxic shock due to sunscreens. In particular, some of the major chemicals used in consumer sunscreens have been found to be harmful to corals and other marine life. This unpleasant process starts with the application of sunscreen which does not remain on our skin, but instead it rinses in swimming or in the shower, and enters our waterways and consequently into the oceans. One of the main culprits is oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), a synthetic chemical found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products. A single drop of this compound in more than 4 million gallons of water is enough to endanger the majority of marine organisms. Octinoxate behaves accordingly. The action of these substances, in addition to their sunscreen use, extends to coral bleaching, where their DNA is destroyed, increasing abnormal growth and causing deformities. In addition to the damage caused to corals, such sunscreens can reduce the fertility of fish as their substances have been shown to accumulate in dolphins, damaging the urchins’ immune system by deforming them and finally adversely affecting photosynthesis in nature. Of course, it is not just chemical sunscreens that are responsible for such unpleasant effects. Many natural sunscreens often contain nanoparticles, which due to their extremely small size can be absorbed by marine life. These metals are toxic to many ocean species and can cause adverse survival conditions and eventually death in many living species, even at low concentrations. With around 14,000 tones of sunscreen being deposited in the oceans each year, with the greatest damage being found in popular reef areas such as Hawaii and the Caribbean, it becomes clear that active research is needed to investigate the effects of such substances entering the oceans and develop new sunscreen technology that protects such as humans as the environment.
Conscious consumption of sunscreen: The defense of marine ecosystems
Today, as the formulas of the products, and specifically of sunscreens, are improving and the information about them can be found anywhere, we are not allowed to blind ourselves to the safety of our sunscreens. That is why it is advisable to follow clear instructions for their purchase in order to make the right choice and not become marketing victims.
Here are some basic sunscreen tips:
- Avoid aerosols. Spray sunscreens create a chemical cloud that floods the sand. When the tide comes these chemicals are flushed into the ocean.
- Avoid sunscreens that contain harmful chemicals, such as oxybenzone, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, camphor 4-methylbenzylidene, camphor 3-benzylidene, octinoxaryate and octoacetate.
- Choose sunscreens with minerals that use ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It is worth noting that not all inorganic sunscreens are safe for the reef. In order to be safe on the reef, the components must be “non-nano” or larger than 100 nanometers in size, as this makes it less likely to be absorbed by marine life. Choose mineral products that indicate that the ingredients are non-nano, for example “non-zinc non-zinc”.
- Look for products with safety certifications. It is understandable that modern everyday life does not allow us to study in such depth the components of sunscreen. That’s why certifications like Protect Land + Sea.
- Find out about the quality of your sunscreens and compare them to the most comprehensive cosmetics safety platform, ENVIROMENTAL WORKING GROUP (EWG). Then you can choose the ideal one for you.
In summary, the above information should not be discouraging for our relationship with sunscreen and consequently with the sea, but instead we should embrace it and protect it as much as possible to enjoy it for many more years. Have a good dive! Bloom!
- Αντηλιακά, νανοτεχνολογικά υλικά ύποπτα για την εμφάνιση τοξικότητας. Available here.
- Αντηλιακό φιλικό προς το περιβάλλον. Available here.
- Sunscreens that Protect You and the Ocean: A Sunscreen Tipsheet. Available here.
- Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs. Available here.