Of course it is very important to wear sunscreen on a daily basis (not only during the summer). If you are wearing your sunscreen everyday, good for you! Future you with youthful, wrinkle- and sunspot-free skin thanks you. However, wearing it everyday is only part of the battle; you must still find a sunscreen product that is both safe for your skin and the environment.
Not all sunscreens are the same. We need to pay attention to the ingredients in the sunscreens we use — in particular, oxybenzone and octinoxate — for both our health and the environment. You may have never heard of these chemicals, but they are in most sunscreens. Oxybenzone (often labeled as benzonephenone-3) and octinoxate (labeled as octyl methoxycinnamate or ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) provide coverage by absorbing UV light. Both ingredients are easily absorbed and are able to protect the deeper layers of the skin. However, the amount of time these chemicals can remain in our bodies is unknown.
So how bad are they for you? Pretty bad. These chemicals can cause hormone disruption and skin irritation/allergy. Oxybenzone and octinoxate can disrupt the endocrine and reproductive systems by producing hormone-like effects. Both chemicals can also cause acne, rash, contact dermatitis, and other allergy reactions.
And what about the environment? Each year, between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reef areas around the world. Studies show that these common sunscreen ingredients contribute to the degradation of the ocean’s coral reefs through coral bleaching. How does this happen? The chemicals activate coral viruses, cause them to become sick and expel their algae. Without the life-giving algae, the coral bleaches (becomes white) and can die. In an effort to protect our oceans, Hawaii passed a bill to ban the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate that harm the coral reefs.
So next time you are picking out a new sunscreen, read the label and avoid these harmful ingredients.