Why is Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?
It turns out the UV filter Oxybenzone is hard on more than just our bodies, it can be absolutely devastating to the coral reefs that span our oceans. While deeply saddening , it’s not necessarily news. If you recall from our blog post from The Sunscreen Doc, click here to read, there have been signs up in Hawaii telling people to wash off their sunscreen from a long time ago. This photo was taken back in 2006.
Why is Oxybenzone so detrimental to the reefs? Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, meaning it’s detrimental effects are triggered by sunlight (making it an odd choice for a sunscreen ingredient). In very small concentrations, Oxybenzone was shown to disrupt the living larval forms of coral by reducing their motility, ossifying their exo-skeleton and causing its DNA to mutate. The overall effect was to exacerbate bleaching of the reef, something that is linked to rising sea temperatures, which is the ultimate death knell for the living organism.
Swimmers (but also all sunscreen users) should look for Oxybenzone free products but can also use sun protective clothing to reduce the amount of sunscreen they have to wear overall.
2nd degree burns on boy after using SPF 50 sunscreen
A mom in the UK posted pics of her son’s 2nd degree burns after spending 5 hours at the beach but after having religiously used sunscreens all day. The family had been using a popular sunscreen spray marketed especially for kids by Banana Boat. While there are multiple versions of the kids spray formula, we have found some versions that make it very clear as to what could have happened.
This version shown here, has numerous potential issues with it (including the use of parabens in the non-medicinals). The most obvious issue is that it combines Avobenzone with Octinoxate, which is somewhat of a rookies mistake. It’s a well established fact that octinoxate degrades Avobenzone when exposed to sunlight. The end result is a sunscreen that loses the ability to protect against UVA as the Avobenzone degrades but then also against UVB as the octinoxate begins to deteriorate as well. Click here to read more about this well documented phenomenon. Fortunately, it’s not one that we see very often now so it’s astonishing to find it in a sunscreen for babies.
The fact that this sunscreen was an aerosol spray I believe compounds the problem and you can read more about that in the next section. This sunscreen also is just generally a poor choice due to the potential issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals with Avobenzone, un-encapsulated octinoxate, the varios salates and the parabens included in the non-medicinals. It’s all around a poor sunscreen but it’s all made worse by the fact that it’s marketed towards kids.
Aerosol Sunscreen Might Not be as Safe as you think
Finally, spray sunscreens currently exist in a nether-region in US regulation. The FDA has mandated as of 2011 that they would impose a ban on all spray sunscreens unless manufacturers could prove their safety. Spray sunscreens are still available until such ban is actually enforced but the concerns against their safety center around inhalation risk but also as to efficacy when it comes to applying them sufficiently and uniformly. Anecdotally, before my days of working at CyberDERM, I purchased a can of spray sunscreen and threw it in my purse to have on hand throughout the summer days. Unfortunately, the can leaked and pooled in the bottom off my silver coloured leather bag. After, quasi-melting my phone and I-pod (was back in 2010 and my beloved I-Pod Shuffle was toast!), the sunscreen also had stripped the silver paint of my bag. Most spray sunscreens use alcohol as the main solvent to solubilize their filters, which is how it was able to dissolve paint. It’s unsavoury to imagine that sitting on your skin all day.