Monday, April 1, 2013

Take Action

How Can You Be Part of the Solution

There are several ways that consumers can reduce the harmful effects that sunscreen is having on coral reef systems worldwide:

  1. Check the EWG's Annual Sunscreen Rating Guide to see how your sunscreen stacks up.  Try to buy sunscreens with ratings between 1 and 2 that have a low environmental impact.
  2. Purchase sunscreens that have been certified as "reef-safe" by the American Lifeguard Association.
  3. Demand that your local beach supply stores only sell "reef-safe" sunscreen.
  4. When participating in outdoor recreational activities, wear UV protectant shirts rather than sunscreen.  This will decrease the total amount of sunscreen that you use that could be washed into the ocean.
  5. Write your local legislator - Many areas located in close proximity to coral reef ecosystems have passed legislation banning the sale of sunscreens containing certain ingredients that have been shown to have a detrimental effect on reefs.  For example, a few areas in Mexico now require swimmers and divers to use biodegradable sunscreen products.
  6. Raise awareness about the issue - This problem exists because most people are not aware that sunscreens can have a harmful effect on the environment.  Oftentimes, people are overly concerned with protecting their own health that they do not realize or consider their effects on the outside environment.  Explain to your friends why you use biodegradable sunscreen products and suggest that they do the same.  Encourage others to visit this blog to learn more about the risks to coral reefs posed by the use of sunscreen.  Spread the word!

Sunscreen Safety Ratings

How Safe is Your Sunscreen?

Every year, an organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a guide listing the safest sunscreen formulas.  The EWG has developed a 1 to 8 scale, with 1 being the safest for the environment and 8 being the most hazardous to the environment.  The most recent 2012 guide rates 1,813 different brands and formulas of sunscreen using this scale.  Some of the safest brands on the list included: Kiss My Face Sunscreen, Aubrey Organics, and Badger Sunscreen.  The most hazardous brands on the list included: Panama Jack Sunscreen, Australian Gold Sunscreen, and Wegmans Sunscreen.  Oftentimes, the sunscreens with higher Sun Protection Factors (SPF) scored lower in the EWG's ratings, while sensitive skin and organic formulas scored safer ratings.  A new Sunscreen Guide for 2013 should be released in early April.

How did the Three Largest Sunscreen Brands Rate?

Coppertone sunscreen formulas had ratings that ranged from 2 to 7.

Banana Boat sunscreen formulas had ratings that ranged from 3 to 7.

Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen formulas had ratings that ranged from 5 to 7, scoring the lowest average of the three major sunscreen manufacturers.

Videos Discussing Sunscreen Pollution

Videos Discussing Sunscreen Pollution

The video below features an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Plourde, Ph.D., a scientist who has written extensively about potential harms created by the use of sunscreen.  Dr. Plourde published a book entitled "Sunscreens Biohazard: Treat as Hazardous Waste," which focuses on the effects of sunscreen on coral reef ecosystems.

The video below features a news report discussing the effects of sunscreen on coral reefs.  The video summarizes the 2008 study conducted by the EHP.  Alternatives sunscreens with non-harmful ingredients are discussed.  The video explains that many international resorts have banned the use of certain brands of sunscreen because they contain ingredients that may be harmful to coral.  A snorkeling instructor in Key West, Florida is interviewed who explains that signs of coral reef bleaching have been increasing in the Keys over the past few years.

Sunscreen and Coral Reef Bleaching

What is the issue?

In 2013, the American Cancer Society estimates that 12,650 people in the United States will die due to melanoma of the skin.  Every year, beachgoers around the world use countless bottles of sunscreen to shield themselves from the Sun's UV rays.  In the US alone, sunscreen sales are expected to reach  $1.8 billion by 2016.  Large corporations, aiming to capture market share, are constantly reformulating their products with new chemicals and technology.  Several recent studies have indicated that some of the compounds commonly used in today's sunscreens may have a large effect on coral reef bleaching throughout the world.  Coral reefs play a vital role in supporting life in and around the ocean by:
  • Providing a home for approximately 25 percent (25%) of marine species;
  • Protecting shorelines from erosion and storm surge;
  • Supporting fisheries;
  • Providing valuable tourist dollars for many areas; and
  • Are home to many compounds that may be used in the production of pharmaceutical and medical products

Bleached Coral Reef
Comparison of Health Coral with Bleached Coral
Because of the serious health concerns with UV radiation, many consumers often overlook the environmental effects of sunscreen use.  In 2008, a group of Italian scientists working for an organization known as Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) published a study (Click Here for a Link to the Study) detailing how common sunscreens are contributing to coral reef bleaching witnessed throughout the world.  The researchers took samples from coral reefs sites in the Red Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Indian Ocean off the coast of Thailand, and the Pacific Ocean surrounding Indonesia.  From the study, the researchers determined that four compounds commonly found in commercial sunscreen were shown to illicit viral infections in Zooxanthellae, a type of symbiotic algae that is found inside healthy coral tissue that aids in the photosynthesis process.  These compounds included:
  • Paraben;
  • Cinnamate;
  • Benzophenone; and
  • Camphor derivatives
The methods used by the Italian scientists involved comparing coral samples submersed in seawater containing various concentrations of sunscreen with control samples submersed in normal seawater.  It was found that coral bleaching occurred sometimes within just a few hours, never taking more than four days to occur when exposed to sunscreen quantities as low as 10 μL/L.  The chemicals contained in the sunscreen caused viruses to replicate in the Zooxanthellae until their hosts exploded, which caused virus-containing seawater to be spread to surrounding areas.  The researchers estimated that in total up to 10 percent (10%) of the world's coral reefs are at risk to coral reef bleaching as a result of sunscreen pollution.  Areas with substantial tourism, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, are particularly at risk.

Scientists estimate that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off of swimmers each year into the ocean.  The purpose of this blog is to educate consumers about the potentially dangerous consequences associated with sunscreen use so that they can make informed decisions about which brands of sunscreens they choose to purchase.  By reducing the sales of sunscreen brands containing harmful ingredients, consumers can use their purchasing power to affect the products that are produced and marketed by major sunscreen manufacturers.  Ultimately, the goal is to see complete phase-out of these compounds, and the elimination of the potential threat to coral reef ecosystems worldwide, so that these valuable resources can be preserved for future generations.