Sunscreens: do they really protect us?

If you are going to the beach this weekend, don’t forget to bring your sunscreen! However… did you know that 14.000 tonnes of sunscreen reach every year coral reefs, making them susceptible to bleaching, deforming baby coral and degrading its resilience to climate change?

The effects of coral bleaching. Source: Vox

Most of the sunscreens are made from chemical UV filters of synthetic origin, coming mainly from oil derivatives. These sunscreens are called chemical sunscreens, and represent an alarming hazard to the environment both for its impact on coral reefs and the fact of using oil for its production. Chemical sunscreens absorb ultraviolet radiation like a sponge, and may also be dangerous for human health, since these chemicals are proven hormone disruptors that can seep through human and animal skin into other bodily tissue.

These chemicals are oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate, avobenzone and homosalate, and they can affect a man’s sperm count or contribute to the development of painful endometriosis in women. These molecules can be easily identified in regular sunscreens providers, such as Nivea, Garnier (Delial) or Loreal.

Regular sunscreen providers, such as Loreal, incorporate up to a 20% of hazardous chemicals to their products

An alternative to chemical sunscreens are the so-called mineral sunscreens, which instead of absorbing solar radiation, reflect them back by means of titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide particles. Since mineral sunscreens are made of non-synthetic products, they do not represent a menace to coral reefs and sea life in general.

However, all that glitters is not gold, since the use of mineral particles may be potentially damaging to humans. Several studies conclude that titanium or zinc dioxide nanoparticles (smaller than 35 nanometers) are capable to enter the bloodstream and cause allergic reactions. Nevertheless, sunscreen manufacturers do not reveal the size of the particles they use (they are not obliged to), making not possible to know if a specific mineral sunscreen may have these adverse effects.

Last but not least, and added benefit of mineral sunscreens is that they are effective immediately after application, whereas chemical sunscreens must be applied at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, since the skin has to absorb them.

Companies such as Freshly, Alga Maris (Laboratoires Biarritz), Drasanvi, Lush or Acorelle offer mineral sunscreens, which are certified with the ECOCERT label. In Spain, you can find these products in sites such as Planeta Huerto or NutriTienda. Look for this label if you want to spend a more sustainable summer!

Alternative sunscreens providers, such as Freshly, use zinc and titanium oxides, as well as other natural components in their products

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