What Is Your Sunscreen Doing To The Environment? Suncreams To Protect The Planet And You

Microplastics and some chemicals found in suncream are damaging our oceans.

Slapping on the suncream is the cornerstone of any sunny day, at home or abroad. But while it may protect your skin, some sunscreens can also have a detrimental effect on oceans and natural wildlife.

The ingredients that go into lotions can include microplastics and chemicals that are damaging precious (and, in a lot of cases, endangered) coral reefs. So it’s worth swotting up on what your suncream might be doing to the planet, as well as finding some eco-friendly products with SPF factor and a UVA star rating.

Microplastics and chemicals in some sunscreens are damaging precious (and, in a lot of cases, endangered) coral reefs.
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Microplastics and chemicals in some sunscreens are damaging precious (and, in a lot of cases, endangered) coral reefs.

The Microbead Problem

The UK government has implemented a ban on the manufacture and sale of “rinse-off” cosmetic products containing microbeads as part of an effort to protect our oceans and sea life from their harmful, pollutive effect. These plastics are often ingested by sea animals (sometimes killing them), which means they also run the risk of appearing on the plates of those who eat fish and seafood.

The problem is, the ban only applies to a selective range of ‘rinse-off’ products, such as toothpaste and facial scrubs, which are immediately washed into our water supply after use. Although suncream often ends up rinsing off our bodies into the sea, it is exempt from this legislation, along with a range of other everyday cosmetics, such as lipstick and mascara.

Campaign group Beat The Microbead is currently lobbying the European Commission to ban the use of microbeads in all cosmetic products. Jeroen Dagevos, who heads up the campaign, has recently presented evidence about the microbeads and polyethylene plastics found in lipsticks and other “leave-on” cosmetics to the European Chemicals Agency.

And he’s not the only environmental activist questioning the use of these materials in our suncream. Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, calls the gap in legislation “ludicrous”. “People obviously need to shield their skin from the sun, but manufacturers need to make sure that their products are environmentally safe, as well as protective for our skin,” he told HuffPost UK.

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The Toxic Impact On Our Coral Reefs

According to a study by the non-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, the chemicals in suncream that are used to protect us from UV rays (such as oxybenzone and octinoxate) are also damaging marine life. Experts found that the chemicals seep into young coral and contribute to coral bleaching, killing off nutrients that sustain other marine life.

Hawaii has become the first US state to ban suncreams containing these damaging chemicals. The ban on creams that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate will come into effect in 2021 and there are plans to introduce a similar ban in Australia and California. Seeing as 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year, according to a paper published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, it’s worth finding a suncream brand that doesn’t contain microbeads or damaging chemicals.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives

You do definitely still need to wear suncream. But look for a cream that relies on minerals rather than chemicals to block the rays. You’re looking for products that protect you from both UVA and UVB rays, you can tell this by checking out the star rating (UVA) and SPF (UVB).

Shade offer a range of mineral-based suncare products from £13.50 (made in the US, but delivery available to the UK including via Amazon).

Try Lovea for organic, coral-safe suncream. The mineral-based range starts at £15.99 and contains plant-derived biodegradable ingredients.

Green People have a variety of eco-friendly suncream options, including products for children, as well as something for those who wish to have a ‘natural’ fake-tan to accelerate the process. All products are free from harmful chemicals, parabens, silicones and synthetic fragrances, and a 100ml bottle is £14.50.

Check out The Organic Pharmacy for marigold and aloe-infused sunscreen treats that combine titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Starting at £39.95 for a 100ml bottle, it’s pricey, so use every drop. The range also offers all-natural self-tanning and aftersun products.