The sun provides the Earth with light and energy, it stimulates the production of vitamin D. However those powerful life giving rays can be harmful, so it’s important to cover up. But is your sunscreen safe? It might not be protecting your skin enough or leaching chemicals into your blood stream. Some chemicals in sunblocks are harmful to coral, is yours?
The Difference Between Ultraviolet A, UVA and Ultraviolet B, UVB
The sun produces a spectrum of rays. Some of it is visible light the comprises the rainbow of colors we can see. Some of it is invisible to our eyes like Ultraviolet and Infrared. UVA has long waves that can penetrate deeper into our epidermis layer of skin, which can lead to skin aging. UVB has short waves which can burn the superficial layers of skin which can lead to skin cancer. The sun protection factor (SPF) rating on your sunscreen refers to the percentage of protection from UVB rays only.
The Safety of Mineral vs Chemical Sunblock
Mineral sunblocks are made with Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide to scatter and reflect UVA and UVB rays. Data shows that these minerals are unable to penetrate the skin and leach into your blood stream. However check the other inactive ingredients, for chemical preservatives of fillers that might leach. These minerals offer full spectrum sun protection and do not harm coral reefs.
Chemical sunblocks are made with a combination of chemicals that either scatter UVA or UVB. These types of sunblocks blend together chemicals to create a lotion that protects from both types of rays. Many of these chemicals are able to be absorbed through the skin. There is reason for concern. New lab studies have found that some of the chemicals used, like Oxybenzone, have been found to also be endocrine disruptors in animal tests.
This means that some animals, like coral larvae, are unable to develop properly, which has contributed to coral bleaching. Oxybenzone is able to penetrate the skin and reach soft tissue. The CDC has found it in breast milk and the blood stream. Unfortunately our current safety system allows for products to be available on the market until they are proven unsafe. There has been minimal testing for many of these chemicals on humans.
How to Choose a Safe and Effective Sunblock
With over 600 products available it can be hard to sift through the copious amounts of unintelligible lists of ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has create and annual list of sunblocks available in the US and chooses the safest and most effective products. Most major brands make both mineral and chemical products, so you have to check each one individually. You can also check their pocket guide for a quick reference of ingredients to avoid.
Even if you don’t plan trips to the beach or intend on long exposure, I encourage everyone to choose a mineral sunblock with a short list of ingredients. This will reduce your risk of absorbing potentially harmful chemicals and keep our oceans healthy. We are all connected and the production and distribution of chemicals is often the actual culprit of environmental disasters rather than individual use. Lets all stay safe.