Putting on sunscreen may be a no-brainer for keeping your skin safe. Soon, it’ll be about keeping the oceans safe, too—especially if you’re heading to Hawaii. According to the New York Times, the sunny state just became the first to ban the selling of sunscreens containing chemicals that harm the coral reefs. The effects will take place in 2021.
Not sure what SPF has to do with the reefs? Most conventional sunscreens, and even skin care products containing SPF, also pack chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. And while these can help protect you from getting burnt, studies have also found that when they wash off into the water, they can contribute to coral bleaching.
Coral bleaching occurs when coral negatively reacts to a change in its environment, from warmer waters to ocean pollution. Healthy coral normally works together with algae to stay alive; the coral both feeds on and gets its color from the algae. But as soon as it experiences stress from a change in temperature, pollution, light, or lack in nutrients, algae flee leaving the coral white, hence the name “coral bleaching." Not only do coral lose their pretty hue, but, more importantly, their food source leaving them vulnerable to diseases and even death.
Though the coral reefs cover less than one percent of the earth's surface, they play a vital part in the ocean's ecosystem providing a quarter of all marine species with food and shelter.
This doesn’t mean you need to skip sunscreen altogether (nor should you!). Just be sure to keep an eye out on the ingredients list next time you’re shopping for your SPF. While most sunscreens contain chemical filters, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, there are more eco-alternatives available that use mineral filters, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to protect your skin. Brands like Thinksport and Raw Elements, are also free of other preservatives that may be harmful to the oceans—giving you one less thing to worry about when soaking up some rays.