Chemical vs. Physical.
There are two types of sunscreen (which you can read a little about here) with physical sunscreen being arguably the more Clean to Skin. Neither however are perfectly ‘reef safe’. A chemical sunscreen uses compounds like Oxybenzone and Avobenzone (to name a couple) to absorb the sun's rays, change them into heat and release that heat from the skin. Once these chemicals reach the reef they have the ability to decrease corals’ defenses against bleaching, damaging their DNA and hurting their development.
Mineral sunscreens create a physical shield using components like Zinc Oxide to offer a protective layer that deflect the sun rays off the skin. However, to dull down that often ‘chalky’ cast from an all-mineral sunscreen, these compounds are sometimes reduced to tiny ‘nano-particles’ to apply smoother and more transparent. So in addition to chemical sunscreens, nano-sized minerals can also pose a threat to coral, fish and other aquatic life.
From skin to the sea.
How do these chemicals reach our reefs? It’s all down to us. The more obvious part being washing directly off of our skin while we swim in the sea, but city and inland residents wearing sunscreen to work are at risk too, as when showering or washing our faces these chemicals can find their way to the ocean via our water system - they’re typically not filtered out at water treatment plants. With this in mind, it’s important to pick a sunscreen that minimizes damage to coral and aquatic life and while we can’t say a sunscreen is “reef safe” there are steps we’ve taken to make ours “reef-friendlier”.
We get the occasional negative comment for Clean Screen applying white at first application - but we’re going to own it. It comes down to us using Non-Nano Zinc Oxide which is less likely to damage coral or aquatic creatures due to being a larger molecular size. Plus, it protects skin just as effectively from sun’s rays, without the need for aforementioned chemicals of oxy and avobenzone - which can sometimes cause reactions on sensitive skin anyway.
We (in theory) *could* create a sunscreen that’s untraceable, transparent and easily applied - but we’re not prepared to compromise the planet to do that. Plus, once Clean Screen is thoroughly rubbed in (easier if your skin is well moisturized) the pay-off is an uber-matt, smooth, sun and pollution protected complexion that's friendlier to our reefs. We think that’s worth a little extra rubbing, don’t you?
A word from Surfrider
Surfrider Foundation Staff Scientist, Katie Day writes, "While sunscreen chemicals are not the only cause of the many issues facing our coral reefs, they are a known stressor that we can have complete control over. We must do everything we can to protect the resiliency and health of our reefs as they continue to face more natural disasters from a changing climate. Switching to reef-friendly products, like non-nano mineral based sunscreen, both at the beach and upstream, is a powerful step we can all take to protect our clean water, reefs and marine life."
The Surfrider Foundation work tirelessly to protect the world’s coasts and waterways and have a plethora of advice about reef-friendly sunscreens, including ingredients to watch out for and practical advice. You can read what they have to say on their blog.
Clean to planet considerations.
As we’ve discovered – no SPF is truly reef-safe, but there are steps we can take to make sure we’re all being more reef-friendly while staying safe from the sun.
• Even if you’re using SPF, try to avoid sun at it’s strongest between 10am – 2pm.
• Cover up. Who doesn’t love showing some skin? But to minimize the need for so much sunscreen, cover with clothing or hats if you can.
• Use a ‘reef-friendly’ sunscreen – and check it. The best thing for our planet is a mineral-only non-nano zinc oxide.
• Spread the word. Be that mildly preachy friend who recommends to use a reef-safe sunscreen – don’t feel guilty about preaching, you’re helping the planet, after all.