Preserving the Environment

Did You Know That Sunscreen is Harmful to the Environment?

January 22, 2015
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Did You Know That Sunscreen is Harmful to the Environment?
Sun worshipers should be careful to choose SPF protection that is safe for the environment. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Something that's good for our skin isn't exactly the best for our planet.

We usually think of sunscreen as something of a Godsend, allowing us to bask in the sun’s rays while protecting our skin from harmful solar radiation.

However, if you’ve ever noticed that oily sheen in a lake or ocean, you have to realize that these miracle lotions aren’t the best for marine life, from bleaching coral reefs to harming phytoplankton (an all-important microalgae that’s the basis of the ocean’s food chain and helps sequester carbon, which helps mitigate climate change).

Titanium dioxide — a common ingredient in traditional sunscreen — can potentially harm underwater ecosystems. As Ensia writes, this chemical, when washed off your body, reacts with ultraviolet light to form new compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, which causes “high levels” of stress on phytoplankton populations.

So what’s a sun-lover to do, especially if you’re suffering from seasonal affectiven disorder from being cooped up inside all winter? Make sure you time your trip to the beach or lake accordingly, so that you’re not there during peak sun hours. Also, don’t stay outdoors for long stretches of time. When you are outside, Ensia suggests that you wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and hats before opting for sunscreen, and if you must use sunscreen, make sure the goop is fully absorbed into your skin before you enter water.

You should also choose a product on the Environmental Working Group’s extensive list of eco-friendly sunscreens (there are plenty of reviews online about the best ones). After all, you should protect yourself in addition to protecting the ocean.

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