Green Tip – Sunscreen


We all know that sunscreen is a must during these sunny, summer months, but did you know that your sunscreen may actually harm the environment? The chemicals in traditional sunscreens have been shown to potentially cause coral bleaching, which is when the coral becomes stressed, leaving the skeletal structure vulnerable. Since sunscreen is petroleum based, it doesn’t biodegrade, leading up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen that is released by swimmers in reef areas all around. In addition, some sunscreens that have petrochemical active ingredients and nanoparticles could actually cause more problems to our ecosystems.  These nanoparticles are thought to cause the elimination of microbes that play important roles in our ecosystems, and since we wash off our sunscreen in the shower, the particles end up in the municipal sewage treatment plants. While the most natural way to shield you from the sun is to wear long sleeves, use umbrellas and hats; take a look at these natural sunscreens that will protect both you from the sun, as well as the reefs and ecosystems from the nasty chemicals.


Written by: Lauren Henry, class of 2014

2 Replies to “Green Tip – Sunscreen”

  1. The sentiments are pretty well spot-on but the science is a bit muddled. True, some sunscreens are organic based (and derived from petroluem) and some are inorganic based. It is inaccurate to claim that microbes cannot breakdown petroluem products because many can and do. It is the chemistry of some of those IV filters that is problematic in the case of coral bleaching, ie. the way that interact with the physiology of the coral. Nanoparticles in sunscreen are exclusively inorganic and while there is an issue with their environmental safety much of it is general and undefined, ie not specifically geared toward coral bleaching issues. Additonally, Danovaro (author who estimates 6,000 tonnes) quoted that figure as a high end estimate as part of a range of 4,000 – 6,000 tonnes globally. I think in the case of the GBR that figure would be closer to 500 – 700 tonnes per year. Still pretty ugly but not as bad!

  2. Are long sleeves, umbrellas and hats really “natural”? What does “natural” sunscreen even mean?l

    I hope not to see a campaign to ban sunscreen at the U of R.

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