First, they found that oxybenzone induces coral bleaching at lower than normal temperatures. When that happens, the reef becomes vulnerable in warm waters. That is not good since the ocean temperatures are slowing rising. It also messes with the coral’s DNA causing severe and lethal deformities as well as causing the coral to encase itself in an exoskeleton when it shouldn’t have one. It is not just the coral that is affected; it also affects other marine life such as sea urchins, algae, fish, and even mammals, including humans. The study looked specifically at oxybenzone, but there are other chemicals that have also been shown to be harmful at low levels. Some of these include: butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor.
So, how much of oxybenzone does it take to do damage? That is the scary part, a little goes a loooong way! These effects occur at levels as low as 62 parts per trillion. To put that in perspective, when they measured the levels off the beaches of Hawaii, it was found that they were typically greater than 700 parts per trillion and that is before the swimmers even hit the water! This is not just a problem in Hawaii; it is common to find high amounts in various reefs around the world.
Now, does this mean we should ditch the sunscreen? NO!! Skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the US and is mostly linked to exposure to UV rays. So, continue to protect yourself, and your family, just be smart about it. Here are some suggestions:
- Check the list of ingredients! If it contains any of the harmful chemicals, pick a safer one!
- Cut down on amount of sunscreen you use by applying it only to areas of the body directly exposed to sun, such as the neck, face, feet and the back of the hands.
- Apply sunscreen at least 10 to 15 min or more before entering the water. This gives time for the sunscreen to be absorbed into the skin, and thus less will rinse off in the water.
- Resist the temptation to sunbathe. Sit and Sip under the shade of a palm tree instead!