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Eco Friendly Sunscreen and Coral Reef Ecology

snorkel shallow

Once in a while we get this question: Is there a good eco friendly sunscreen that doesn’t harm the coral reef ecology? The answer isn’t as simple as we’d like.

Here’s how we replied to a recent inquiry about eco friendly sunscreen. This person had been asking us about recent problems in Cancun:

Because many people buy their sunscreen in Belize, and Belize does not offer environmentally-sensitive products, we do not have a specific recommendation. The reason sunscreen is a problem in places like Cancun is because there the coral is literally overrun with people. Glover’s Reef is pristine and seldom visited. We have not seen damage to coral from  sunscreen or other man-made products.

So, part of the answer has to do with which coral reef you’re referring to. Where are you swimming? If you are swimming with 5,000 other tourists, odds are, the reef is going to be getting hammered in a number of ways, sunscreen being one.

Another part of the answer has to do with where are you shopping? If you’re shopping for any environmentally-benign product — whether eco friendly sunscreen or biodegradable paper plates — odds are long on finding them in many developing countries like Belize.

Eco friendly sunscreenBut here in the US and Canada, eco friendly sunscreen is easily purchased at many retailers. But before you buy, take a moment to learn a little more about what qualifies something to earn that eco friendly sunscreen name?

Whenever looking for info on the environmental impact of a product, a good starting point is Earth 911, a compendium of short, helpful articles on everything from It’s Time for an All-Natural Watch to 7 Ways to Reuse an Aluminum Pie Pan. I don’t think they sell things. It’s mostly a blog with articles by a number of different authors. Most of them have to do with “upcycling” – taking things that are headed for the dump and turning them into a new, useful product.

In our case, they happen to have a great article about eco friendly sunscreen.

Eco-Friendly Sunscreens for Summer

Sunscreen is essential for all that summer fun outdoors, but some SPF products may contain chemical additives that can be harmful not only for you, but also for the environment you enjoy on summer travels.

When sunscreen washes off in oceans, lakes and rivers, it can leave chemical residues behind that may be harmful to marine life, particularly coral reefs – a concept supported by a 2008 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

So, with a little help from the Environmental Working Group’sSkinDeep database, Earth911 rounded up eight safe, nontoxic and eco-friendly sunscreens that are as easy on your skin as they are on the environment. Read on to find your new fave.

Topping their list was Honest Sunscreen from The Honest Company.

This biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen boasts EWG’s lowest toxicity score – meaning it’s free of any chemical ingredients that may be harmful to you or the planet.

Offering non-greasy application and broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, this pick is also water-resistant and safe for use on children under six months, making it a perfect beach formula for the whole family.