SPF. Broad-spectrum. Those are all things you know to check for in a sunscreen. But now there's another to add to your list: reef-safe.
A groundbreaking new law in Hawaii wants to ban the sale of any sunscreen that contains chemicals that can harm coral reefs. The bill, which will go into effect on in 2021 if the governor of Hawaii signs it, per , specifically targets the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Studies have found these chemicals can lead to coral bleaching (a process that causes coral to turn white and even kill it) when washed off in the ocean.
Here’s the thing: Oxybenzone and octinoxate are super-common sunscreen ingredients that are found in 3,500 products, according to NPR. They pop up in sunscreens as well as many moisturizers and makeup that contains SPF.
What is reef-safe sunscreen?
But that doesn't mean we should all stop wearing sunscreens. Instead, legislators and advocates say you can use “reef-safe” sunscreens. These are mineral sunblocks that contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
In these mineral sunscreens (also known as physical sunscreens), tiny zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles sit on top of your skin to deflect UV rays, says Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens using more traditional sunscreen ingredients (the above-mentioned oxybenzone and octinoxate) work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat, which is released through the skin.
Do they work as well as "regular" sunscreens?
Rest assured: “Mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are as effective as chemical sunscreens,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, tells WomensHealthMag.com.
There is a catch: they don't blend as well, since they're not designed to absorb into the skin. (Leading to a white "surfer nose" kind of situation). You might also have to apply it more often, Goldenberg says, since it can rub off easier. Still, “when it comes to sun protection, it’s better for your skin to look white from sunscreen than to look red from sunburn,” Zeichner says.
Also, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe. The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles used must be “non-nano” in size. Per theNew York Times, any particles smaller than 100 nanometers can be consumed by coral. (However, the term "non-nano" can be a bit misleading, says the , since technically all zinc oxide and titanium dioxide used in sunscreens are nanoparticles.)
The only way to know if your sunscreen is reef-safe is to read the listed ingredients. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens with the the term "non-nano" on the label. Some also specifically say "reef-safe," although it's a safer bet to just look for the ingredients yourself to be sure.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, here are a few reef-safe sunscreens that worth trying:
TotLogic Natural Sunscreen SPF 30
This gentle sunscreen is hypoallergenic and safe to use on kids and adults.
Goddess Garden Organics Everyday SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen
It's reef safe. And organic. And vegan. AND cruelty-free. What's not to like?
Vive Sana Daily Protezione Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
This SPF-infused moisturizer contains argan oil and antioxidants to hydrate dry skin while protecting it from sun damage.
Reef Safe By Tropical Seas Biodegradable Sunscreen Lotion SPF 45
Sunscreen chemicals don't just harm coral—they can also affect fish and other wildlife that live in the water. This option from Tropical Seas is biodegradable (meaning it won't sit around in the environment forever) and super affordable.
Video: I TESTED 2 REEF SAFE SUNSCREENS | Zero Waste and Plastic Free Sunscreen
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