Wearing sunscreen in the hot summer sun, New Jersey or elsewhere, should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I was a rebel during my teenage years and early twenties – I spent my summers tanning like there was no tomorrow in places like Bermuda and the good ol’ Jersey Shore with absolutely ZERO protection. I used pure coconut oil to achieve the most golden, exotic tan possible. I have naturally olive skin, but I knew the coconut oil was working when people started asking me what island I was from. Thankfully, I didn’t have any skin cancer scares, but I finally smartened up and began using SPF 50 and stopped worrying about being tan.
I did thorough research to make sure I was using a sunscreen with ingredients that would not only maintain my skin’s health, but be safe for our environment. A large contributing factor to our reefs’ and oceans’ decline is sunscreen. According to The Ocean Foundation, “An estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is believed to be deposited in oceans annually.” Some chemicals in sunscreen are enough to cause corals to bleach, forcing them to lose their symbiotic algal energy and making them susceptible to viral infections. Corals are animals: they’re made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. Just like us, they get sick too. If these ingredients are bad for our reefs, can you imagine how bad they are for our skin? Consider our skin a giant sponge: it absorbs everything.
Here are some ingredients to consider avoiding:
1: Chemical filters
These ingredients go by oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. I admit that I’ve used sunscreen containing one or two of these ingredients, but the NUMBER ONE ingredient I will forever avoid is OXYBENZONE. If you notice after a day in the sun any little bumps or pimples on your skin, you can thank oxybenzone because it burdens our liver and disrupts our hormones, which greatly affects our endocrine system.
2: Retinyl palmitate / retinol
These are forms of Vitamin A. Vitamin A maintains our skin tissue by helping the production of new skin cells. While retinol is great for anti-aging, when combined with the sun and UV rays it causes the antioxidants to break down and produce free radicals that damage our DNA. This is why any skincare specialist will tell you to stop retinol use at least one week before sun exposure. If you do hang in the sun after using retinol, you’ll find yourself quickly burned and red even with sunscreen.
Parabens act as preservatives to maintain a sunscreen’s shelf-life. They have the tendency to disrupt hormones and are associated with breast cancer. They’re also known to mess up your reproductive and developmental health. They have many different names, but luckily you can look for a PARABEN-FREE label on the bottle: Butylparaben Ethylparaben Methylparaben Propylparaben Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate) Methyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzate) Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate) Propyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate) Butyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate) Parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
4: Titanium Dioxide with nanoparticles and spray sunscreens
Titanium dioxide isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s the nanoparticles that are problematic. Nanoparticles absorb the sun’s radiation and have carcinogenic properties if inhaled. If you’re using a SPRAY sunscreen, avoid them with titanium dioxide because of how easily they’re inhaled. With that said, titanium dioxide is SAFER when used in a cream or when formulated without nanoparticles (non-nano).
While there isn’t a sunscreen out there that will protect you 100-percent, keep these two things in mind:
1: Just because a SPF number is high does not mean that you can skip reapplying. You must reapply as directed (usually every 80 minutes and/or after swimming and sweating). However: this does not mean that you can apply SPF 15 every 30-minutes versus SPF 50 every 80-minutes and consider that protecting your skin. The higher the SPF, the more protected your skin will be and the longer it will take for your skin to redden. Because no SPF can fully protect you from UV rays, you’ll still get tan with a high SPF, just at a slower rate.
2: SPF typically refers to the amount of UVB protection provided: UVB rays burn the two outermost layers of your skin and play a key role in developing skin cancer. Broad spectrum means it helps protect against UVB and UVA. UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin’s thickest layer (the dermis) and promote aging and wrinkles.
Here are some safe sunscreens that are also reef friendly:
If you aren’t concerned with ditching all of the above ingredients, I would recommend either Sun Bum or COOLA – they’re reef friendly and only contain a very small percentage of chemical filters (with no oxybenzone or parabens).
Your skin is the largest organ in the body. Be smart. Don’t forget your scalp is your skin, too, so wear a hat. Reapply sunscreen often. And most importantly, DRINK YOUR WATER!