How Sunscreen is Hurting the Planet

by EVELIN MAZA January 08, 2020 0 Comments

How Sunscreen is Hurting the Planet

Ads have been encouraging us to slather on sunscreen when we go to the beach since the 1940s. In those days, it used to be all about achieving the perfect tan. Thanks to modern science, we now know that the use of sunscreen can prevent the development of skin cancer. Unfortunately, it has recently been discovered that sunscreen is not as healthy as we once thought. 


Studies have shown that certain ingredients in sunscreen can lead to allergic, inflammatory, and even hormonal reactions within the human body. But humans aren’t the only species being affected by sunscreen use. Sunscreen can enter the ocean through residential waste water or by directly washing off the bodies of swimmers, leading to the accumulation of chemicals in marine environments. 


A study published in 2015 determined that oxybenzone, a chemical ingredient in most sunscreens, causes toxic effects in up to seven different coral species. Specifically, oxybenzone produces coral bleaching. When in direct contact with oxybenzone-contaminated water, once colorful corals tend to expel their algae, turn white, and become highly vulnerable to infection. It also increases the risk of genetic mutations, leading to abnormalities and malformations in baby corals.


Other animals have also been damaged. Certain species of fish and dolphin have been affected by the hormone-like qualities of oxybenzone. It mimics the structure of estrogen, leading to lower levels of fertility and male fish developing female characteristics. Additionally, sunscreen is toxic to algae, impairing its normal process of photosynthesis and growth.


These effects have been seen in many locations, including the islands of Hawaii. Not only is it home to vast and beautiful coral reefs, but it is also a popular vacation spot. This makes Hawaiian beaches especially vulnerable to contamination by these toxins. Luckily, the state of Hawaii was quick to react to the newfound evidence. In 2018, the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone was legally banned in the state of Hawaii. Hopefully, the marine environments of the Hawaiian islands will be able to recover with time and care.


However, does this mean we should stop protecting ourselves from the sun? Of course not! Overexposure to UV rays can cause sunburn, rob your skin of elasticity, increase your risk of skin cancer, and lead to flare-ups if you suffer from inflammatory skin conditions. Avoiding overexposure is especially important during the hours of 10am to 3pm, when UV radiation levels are at their highest. The most direct way to avoid UV radiation is to wear sunglasses, long-sleeved swimming shirts, long swimming trunks, and keep to the shade.


Another environmentally-safe and easy way to protect yourself is by modifying your diet to include high levels of antioxidants. Oxidative stress is induced by UV rays, leading to accelerated skin aging and the development of cancerous cells. Certain foods such as carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, etc. contain high levels of antioxidants, which cancel out these toxic effects. 


Polypodium Leucotomos is a South American fern that has over a dozen clinical studies related to systemic protection against ultraviolet rays. In addition, Astaxanthin is found in marine algae, fungi and some shellfish and has antioxidant as well as skin rejuvenating qualities. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is one of the main components of green tea and a powerful antioxidant. Lutein, naturally found in spinach, kale, and pistachios is a great protector against UV-induced damage. In clinical studies, Lycopene has been shown to help repair sun-induced skin damage and is found in red fruits such as tomatoes, papayas, and watermelons. 


If you are not getting enough of these antioxidants on a daily basis, as an alternative, you can find supplements with many of these protective properties without changing your diet. 


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