Every day on social media you can see people talking about their need for Vitamin "Sea" and sun-kissed skin. They count down the days to their next visit to the beach where the sun and water refuel them, lift their moods and calm their minds. The impact that bodies of water along with the sun and nature have on us is undeniable and is in fact proven.
Part of this entire ocean air, salty hair experience is slapping on that delicious coconut-scented sunscreen that protects our skin from the harmful rays of the sun allowing us that extra time to soak it all in just a little bit more. We even have the option to use waterproof sunscreen, lifting all time-limits on water play whether you're snorkelling the reefs or practicing your kiteboarding tricks all day.
But what if I told you that while your sunscreen has been protecting you and letting you enjoy the best parts of sun and sea, it has been HURTING what lies beneath the surface?
The facts are in. The studies are done. The truth on the effects of sunscreen on coral reefs is here and if you have been using these sunscreens (like I have), you have been contributing to the damage!
NOAA estimates that 4000 - 6000 tons of sunscreen washes off our bodies into the coral reef every year. Coral reefs are a main attraction in tropical destinations and a draw for tourism. I am a huge advocate for creating awareness of the underwater world and introducing people to this other 70% of our planet; however, I am concerned that with the influx of humans sporting their every day sunscreen, that the stunning life of the undersea world will be dying before long.
The first time I had ever heard anything about the harmful effects of sunscreen was back in 2012 while doing a cenotes (cavern) dive in Mexico. There was a sign at the entrance point that stated wearing sunscreen was prohibited. My dive guide, Joram, informed me that Mexico was working towards preventing the harmful chemicals from entering the fresh waters of the cenotes (caves) and stopping them from entering the ocean where coral reefs are.
I hadn't really heard too much about it again until I listened to a podcast in 2015 by Ocean Allison who hosted Autumn Blum of Stream2Sea and then I was convinced.
Autumn Blum, the founder and owner of Stream2Sea, studied Organic Chemistry in school and began her career as a production manager for a cosmetic manufacturing company. Fascinated by the formulations of health care products and especially natural products, she became an expert at understanding organic standards in the USA and ingredients in her career as a Cosmetic Chemist. Eventually her passion for chemistry intertwined with her connection to the ocean; she'll never forget the time, upon surfacing from a scuba dive, she noticed a kind of rainbow shimmer like an oil slick as snorkelers swam through the water slathered in sunscreen.
It suddenly occurred to her that, just because a product is safe for our skin, does not necessarily mean it is safe for the environment.
Autumn began her research and came up with a product that is Mineral-based as opposed to Chemical-based like mainstream sunscreens are. She tested the products in a control area with marine life and noticed some interesting results. Although the mortality level was not as high as expected, the marine life behaviour and development changes were extreme. After only 3 hours, fish that were in the same water as the Stream2Sea products showed no change; whereas, the fish in the same water as the competitor brands were disinterested in food and swimming erratically.
Read the reports here: https://stream2sea.com/product-testing
If you look at the Stream2Sea website, you will see that Autumn is not only selling her product, but she is working to educate people to make informed choices in their healthcare products. The terms "Green", "Organic", "Reef-Safe" are not federally regulated and there are many products on the market that use these terms, which are misleading.
As consumers, she is also teaching us to read the labels on our sunscreen. If you can, go and grab the closest bottle of sunscreen that you have nearby. Now take look at the ingredients and see if it contains any of these items that have been proven highly toxic to corals and marine life:
-coatings used on zinc oxide to reduce whitening
Ingredient: Benzophenone-3, also known as Oxybenzone
(common in FDA approved sunscreens)
The effect on coral reefs:
Listed as a direct cause of coral bleaching by Robert Davanero et al: Report
Here is the Stream2Sea complete list of Ingredients to avoid.
When these chemicals are introduced to our waters, the coral can get sick and expel their life-giving algae. Without these algae, the coral can "bleach" (turn white) and may even die. This then affects 1000s of fish, which eventually affects humans.
"We are responsible for this awesome planet. Our choices matter."
The sheer number of people wearing sunscreen and "leaking" directly onto the reefs is bound to have an impact. Scuba divers are ambassadors of the ocean and we are witnessing the changes before our very eyes. For a person like me, who has spent a significant number of hours/days/weeks/years in the sun and on or under the water while wearing sunscreen - I am in shock and feel compelled to make a change right now. All individuals should be taking responsibility and inquiring as to whether their scuba dive operator or water sports centre ensures that the sunscreen they are providing and ALLOWING is not toxic to the exact environment they take us to visit.
I have tested and used the following products by Stream2Sea and fully endorse them:
Sunscreen for face and body 6.95 - 16.95
Conditioning Shampoo & Body Wash 3.95 - 12.95
Leave-in Conditioner 3.95 - 12.95
Sun & Sting Relief Gel 3.95 - 12.95
Nourishing Body Lotion 3.95 - 12.95
The biggest difference you will notice between Stream2Sea sunscreen and the mainstream brands is that:
- It does not get absorbed into your skin like a Chemical-based sunscreen. In contrast, Mineral-based sunscreens, sit on top of your skin and reflect the UV rays. Therefore, you will see a kind of layer of cream on your skin.
- You have to use SO MUCH less sunscreen than you would with the mainstream kinds, which is great.
With regards to all of the Stream2Sea products, I am SO IMPRESSED. When I spoke with Autumn at a trade show earlier this year, I told her I was only interested in the sunscreen as I didn't really do anything special with my hair etc. But she insisted and - WOW. All of the products have a lovely scent to them and my skin has never felt softer. My favourite is the Leave-in Conditioner that not only makes my hair easy to brush (this is a massive feat for thick, fine hair covered in salty water), but it smells so good and feels incredibly healthy.
Thank-you very much to Autumn for creating such an important product!