An emerging concern among ocean scientists, stewards, and beachgoers is the impact that certain chemical sunscreens are having on the marine environment. This has led to bans on the sale and use of chemical sunscreens in states like Hawaii, and in island communities such as Key West and Aruba. There has also been a surge in the production of “reef friendly” sunscreens – but what does that actually mean, and how safe are these alternative sunscreens to the marine environment?

As an alternative to sunscreen made with toxic chemicals, mineral-based sunscreen is often used as a “reef friendly” option. While mineral-based sunscreens are better for the marine environment than sunscreens with toxic chemicals, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, there are still risks associated with their use. The most common active ingredients in mineral sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

How Do I Know if a Sunscreen is Reef Friendly?

Unfortunately the terms “Reef Friendly” and “Ocean Friendly” are not regulated, so you can’t always trust products with these descriptions. It’s important to check the “active ingredients” label on the back of your sunscreen or personal care product to ensure that reef-harming chemicals are not included. The size of minerals can also have an impact. Be sure to use micro-sized (or non-nano) mineral sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles, as these smaller particles can be toxic in high concentrations. It’s also advised to stick with lotions and avoid spray or misting sunscreens, especially those that contain titanium dioxide as it can be harmful to your health if inhaled. Finally, it’s always good to use products that cut back on single use plastic packaging, either by using containers that are reusable, have high recycled content or are made out of biodegradable plant-based materials like cardboard.

Check the label!  Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following harmful substances on the HEL list:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)
  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”

Learn more about “reef friendly” sunscreens, the negative impacts of chemical-based sunscreens and get a list of some great sunscreen options at Beachapedia.org/Reef_Friendly_Sunscreens.

In California, Hilton is partnering with the Surfrider Foundation to highlight the organization’s mission to protect clean water and healthy beaches, as part of Hilton’s summertime California Road Trip package. From San Diego to San Francisco, there are dozens of beautiful beaches to enjoy as part of a family California Road Trip.

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