Chances are you’ve heard about “reef safe” sunscreens and the importance of using sunblock that doesn’t contain certain harmful chemicals.
But which chemicals are harmful? What does that mean?
Vogue magazine just published an excellent article on the subject, interviewing researchers and chemists. Their recommendation: Try to avoid oxybenzone (the most common compound found in some 3,500 sunscreens worldwide), octinoxate (which is even more toxic than oxybenzone, but usually found in lower concentrations), and octocrylene.
A good rule of thumb: the simpler the formula, the better.
Another recommendation in the article: own at least one long-sleeved sun shirt or rash guard with a UPF (UV-protective fabric) of 50-plus. It should not be a V-neck and ideally will have a thumbhole to hold the sleeve over the top portion of your hands, too. That way when you’re snorkeling or kayaking on the reef, you can put on less sunblock.
WHAT DOES OXYBENZONE DO TO THE REEF?
According to Craig Downs, Ph.D., a forensic ecotoxicologist in Virginia and executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, besides acting as an endocrine disruptor, oxybenzone can damage coral DNA and might lead to what Downs calls “reef zombies” or corals and other reef organisms that look “healthy but are actually sterile and dead—so they cannot reproduce.” Such UV-absorbing compounds can also contribute to coral bleaching, which occurs when the life-sustaining algae that normally lives on coral vanishes, due to changes in ocean temperatures, stress, or pollution.
BUYING REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN PRIOR TO YOUR TRIP
Several places are implementing bans on sunscreens containing oxybenzone, including Hawaii and parts of Mexico. For now, it is still allowed in Belize but we hope you’ll consider other options. Before making your trip, we recommend you purchase some reef-safe sunscreen for your time in the ocean. We also have reef-safe sunscreen available in our gift shop.
You can read more and learn about shopping for Reef Safe Sunscreens in the article on Vogue's website: http://www.vogue.com/article/reef-safe-sunscreens-oxybenzone-free-sea-turtles-environment-stream2sea