As you pack for your spring break or summer trip down to Florida, Cancun, and other tropical paradises, I am sure you are probably hearing your mom's voice in the back of your head telling you, "remember to put on sunscreen!" Mothers and doctors agree that solar radiation is very dangerous and can lead to skin cancer. However, not all sunscreens are created equal and can actually have harmful benefits on both your skin and the environment.

The regular use of sunscreen (SPF 15+) can help reduce an individual's chances of skin cancer by 50-73%. This will also slow the aging process, reduce wrinkles, and prevent sunburn, all of which sound great. This is all true if using the right sunscreen. SPF 15 is said to be able to block 93% of UV radiation from the sun, SPF 30 is said to block 97%, and SPF 50 98%. In addition to checking the SPF on your sunscreen bottle, make sure it also says broad spectrum protection. This ensures that you are being protected from UV and UVA rays, both of which are known causes of skin cancer.

People tend to be well informed about what sunscreen is good enough for them to prevent sunburns and keep themselves protected. The problem is that the knowledge of sunscreen stops here. Did you know that between 6000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off of swimmers and find its way into coral reef environments each year? In addition to this, up to 10% of the world's coral reefs may be threatened by certain chemicals found in most sunscreens. Here are the basics of what you need to know.

What to look for and avoid:

1. Don't trust labels!!!

If a product claims to be "Reef Friendly" or "Reef Safe", there is the possibility of false advertisement. There is little regulation on the labels for sunscreens so make sure to look at the ingredients to avoid harmful products.

2. Use waterproof sunscreens.

This will help minimize the amount of sunscreen that washes off of your body while in the water.

3. Biodegradable

Look for sunscreens products that are biodegradable. This means that the ingredients in the sunscreen will break down naturally in the water, limiting the damage done to the marine environment.

4. Oxybenzone

The main ingredient in oxybenzone is octinoxate. While this changes UV from harmful to harmless heat on the skin, once rinsed off the body it decreases corals defenses against the sun, which increases coral bleaching alters the corals DNA causing irreversible damage. Oxybenzone is found in over 3500 sunscreen products worldwide.

5. Butylparaben

Butylparaben is found in many common over the counter sunscreens as a preservative. While it is effective in keeping sunscreens fresh and useful against UV rays for multiple years, it is known is weaken corals defenses against coral bleaching.

6. 4-methylbenzylidene camphor

Once again, this ingredient is known to negatively affect coral by increasing the effects of coral bleaching. In addition, this ingredient is so infamous for destroying coral reefs that it has been banned throughout Europe and Canada. Despite this, the US and Japan still allow 4-methylbenzylidene camphor in over the counter sunscreens.

Some brands that are both safe for your skin and the reefs include: Think Sport, Raw Elements, Badger, Blue Lizard, and Sun Bum.

Lakes Dermatology - F. Victor Rueckl, MD

There is no need to worry. Making these minor changes to your go-to tanning lotion will not affect your sun-kissed tan. I promise you will still come back with a golden goddess glow and your mom will pester you about not wearing enough sunscreen. In addition to this, all of these brands are still proven to protect you from dangerous UV-rays and will defend your skin against the sun. As you consider making this improvement in your life, consider these tips in other aspects of your life as well. It is simple and easy to check your products for dangerous ingredients that are harmful to both you and mother nature.


S.E.A Aquarium

Coral reefs are not only extremely beautiful, absorb a huge percent of CO2, and beneficial to our environment in countless ways. These reefs are filled with the most diverse group of wildlife and provide homes to mass numbers of marine life. Not to mention the coral itself is alive. Above is a comparison of a dead reef to a live one. Please consider this slight change and save these beautiful ecosystems.