Ahhhh, the sun. The mood-altering, shining star that provides us with life.
The sun is slowly making its way back into our lives and we’re slowly crawling out of our caves, ripe with SAD. In Western cultures, most head outside, without a hat or sunscreen, hoping to create some lasting evidence that we are warm-blooded humans and not cave creatures. Of course, if you’re like me, your fragile winter flesh will skip over the slow-roasted marshmallow brown and sprinkle of freckles, and go straight to shiny lobster red.
Me, always: “next time I should wear some sunscreen…”
Hold that thought. What kind of sunscreen?
Research has shown that the planet’s already -struggling coral reefs are seriously impacted by chemicals found in the majority of sunscreens on the market.
“But I don’t even live in a tropical country…”
“I don’t even live near the ocean…”
You shower right?
All sources of water, no matter how big or small, have an effect on the ocean’s health.
Read this example, if you don’t believe me.
The very products designed to keep human skin safe from harmful UV rays, contain toxins that are hurting coral babies’ skin.
You don’t wanna hurt babies, do you…
This blog post features underwater images taken by Elki Balbuena, from Cebu, Philippines. Elki spends more time underwater than most of us, diving among coral reefs in warm tropical waters around Cebu.
If you’re like me and don’t live near any tropical coral reefs, I thought it’d be nice to live vicariously through the captured experiences of a real person. I’ve been an awed Instagram follower for a while, so I asked if she’d agreed to let me share her photos for the sake of protecting the coral she is so well acquainted with.
Thanks Elki! Follow @hydro.chic for more.
Bored? Don’t have time to read? Watch or listen to this video instead.
What’s the importance of coral?
I want to talk about science later on in this article, so I’ll spare your brain for the time being.
Instead you can watch this, read this, and understand this:
It would really suck for everyone if coral disappeared.
Watch this if you want to know what happens if all the coral dies…
What is coral?
Coral is an animal.
Betcha didn’t know that.
Yeah, okay genius, I know it looks like a ceramic plant, or a prickly rock…
Here are the important bits about coral reproduction:
- Coral species reproduce asexually and sexually. We care about the sexual part (kinkyyyy, as my Gr.11 bio honours teacher would say)
- Most sexual reproducers are broadcast spawners, releasing huge numbers of eggs and sperm into the water, over a large area
- The eggs and sperm are little free floating dudes called planulae (coral babies)
- In favourable conditions, planulae settle and metamorphose into polyps and form colonies. Settling can take days to months, depending on the species
Helpful diagram if you wanna nerd out (Source)
Other Coral Fast Facts:
-Gets food through a badass symbiotic relationship with a special microscopic alga.
-The algae lives inside the soft tissue and makes food for the algae through photosynthesis.
-Also captures its food at night by stretching its stinging tentacles out to catch little unsuspecting organisms (who’s a prickly rock now??)
-Coral bleaching is what happens when the coral gets stressed from higher temperatures and spits out the algae. The algae provides the colour (and the food), so when it’s gone, the coral turns white and dies unless it can get its little green buddies back.
What is hurting the coral?
Other than the increasingly warm ocean temperatures created by human induced climate change?
Chemicals in sunscreen!
Specifically oxybenzone (Benzophenone or BP-3).
It’s an ingredient in sunscreens and lotions that acts as a UV filter after being absorbed into our skin.
In a study done last year in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, a lot of words like “genotoxicity” and “pathomorphology of the thylakoids,” were tossed around.
Let me summarize what they found:
- To corals, oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant- more toxic when light is present
- In both light and darkness, oxybenzone deformed and stopped planulae (coral babies) from being able to move
- The more oxybenzone present, the more bleaching present (!!!!)
- Oxybenzone is a skeletal endocrine disruptor, which induces ossification of the planulae, encasing them in their own skeleton. The coral babies grew their own bones around themselves because their hormones were messed up…
The most critical point made, was that oxybenzone is a serious threat to conservation efforts already in the works, and it seriously threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.
What can we do?
1) Don’t be negligent because you live upstream
As mentioned earlier, just because you don’t live near a beach or in a tropical country doesn’t mean you’re blameless. If you wear sunscreen in your backyard in Saskatchewan (Canadian reference, eh), and take a shower, who’s to say oxybenzone won’t go down the drains, into the sewer, into the streams, rivers, lakes, the ocean?
We don’t know if it can be filtered out of water before entering streams.
We also don’t know what other plants or animals oxybenzone effects yet.
We are all connected on this small planet, don’t forget it.
2) Avoid chemical UV filters – for your safety too?
Unfortunately Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Neutrogena are the just some of the bad guys.
The sunscreen that everyone knows and loves, chemical UV filters, contains oxybenzone (among others) that absorbs into your skin. From there, it protects your skin from damaging UV rays from the sun.
Chemical filters have been under harsh scrutiny in the past years as studies have found that chemical filters may mimic human hormones (estrogen specifically), and have also caused severe allergic reactions. Read more here.
Step 1: Read the ingredients on your sunscreen bottle. Is there oxybenzone, Benzophenone, BP-3?
Step 2: If you’re still unsure, consult these websites!
-To check what your current sunscreen rates as —> Click here
-For the best sunscreens out there –> Click here
-To see the sheer number of products that contain oxybenzone in the US–> Click here
3) Avoid sprays
1) It’s not going where you want it on your skin… sun 1: you 0
2) You’re probably inhaling it… magnifying the risks that sunscreen already has
3) It’s going onto other things: plants, ocean creatures, etc.
Plus, I still have no idea how those bottles get recycled…
4) Buy mineral UV filter sunscreens
Sunscreens with mineral filters usually contain zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide.
This mineral based protection can’t absorb into the skin, but instead reflects light from the surface of your skin. However, don’t inhale it! Don’t buy it in spray forms, especially.
EWG.org has found that mineral sunscreens:
- Provide strong sun protection with few health concerns.
- Don’t break down in the sun.
- Zinc oxide offers good protection from UVA rays. Titanium oxide’s protection isn’t as strong, but it’s better than most other active ingredients
In my personal experience, mineral based sunscreen has been a little less easy to spread over my skin and makes my skin a little whiter, but it feels safer knowing it isn’t absorbing into my skin.
You can find them in most stores in the sunscreen aisle, and if not, try natural food stores (like Whole Foods).
5) Bad sunscreen is better than no sunscreen
It’s still 100% better to wear any sunscreen, than none at all.
From what I hear, skin cancer isn’t worth it.
That means, if you still have chemical UV filter sunscreens, use them up if you have to, but replace them with mineral UV filter sunscreen as soon as possible.
Here’s the list again.