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How Businesses Are Trying To Protect America’s Coral Reefs

[Sept. 30, 2020: Esha Chhabra]

This is the last summer that Hawaii will allow sunscreens made with certain chemicals, argued to be damaging the coral reefs, to be sold on store shelves.

A bill passed into law back in 2018 will go into effect January 2021. Two ingredients in particular are in contention: oxybenzone and octinoxate. While some brands have pivoted to “reef-safe” ingredients, omitting these ingredients, many still have not.

Mission-driven brands such as All Good have been talking about the issue for years, urging customers to educate themselves on the matter. “Legislative efforts are a big factor here in spotlighting which sunscreens are more harmful, than they are helpful,” says Caroline Duell, CEO and founder of All Good.

Whether or not a customer is concerned about his/her personal health and the impact of these ingredients on their skin, endocrine system and beyond, the broader impact on the environment is certainly at stake.

Given that so much of sunscreen is washed off into water systems, the scientific community has been looking at how these chemicals are transforming coral and wildlife in oceans off our coast.

Almost five years ago, the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory conducted a study that validated these fears stating that coral and surrounding marine life were, in fact, being adversely affected by chemicals found in the water. Those chemicals were traced back to sunscreens.

These findings have fueled some of the first bans of non reef-safe sunscreens in the world with Hawaii being the first state in the U.S. and the small Pacific nation of Palau being the first country to do so.

But the challenge now is that “reef safe” is not a regulated term, says Duell. Thus, the company created a movement and launched an educational site on the matter: Reef Friendly.

Coral reefs are estimated to cover under 1% of the ocean floor. Yet they’re vital to save because they serve as a habitat to countless species of marine life. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen gets into reef habitats every year. In most cases, it’s concentrated in areas with heavy tourism or industry. So the chemicals from sunscreen enter these particular locales in higher concentrations, thereby doing more concerted damage.

About a dozen brands have come together to create the Safe Sunscreen Council in an effort to create awareness on this matter. Some of these brands include Manda Naturals, Babo Botanicals, and Raw Elements alongside All Good.

Manda Naturals’ site explains the fundamental difference between mineral/physical and chemical sunscreens: in mineral-base formulations the UVA and UVB rays are deflected by the skin’s surface versus being absorbed as in chemical ons. Thus, they’re less likely to clog pores, leave behind acne, and irritate those with sensitive skin. LA-based Erbaviva, a B Corp, uses ingredients such as aloe vera, cold-pressed oils, and essential oils to produce a more luxurious, but reef-safe sunscreen that’s as concerned about skincare, as it is about protection. Thus, buying from these brands could provide a better overall experience for one’s skin.

The movement to protect reefs along America’s borders is deepening. Key West followed in Hawaii’s footsteps, given that the largest reef ecosystem in North America is at its shores. The Florida Reef Tract spans 360 miles, starting in the Florida Keys.

But that move was contested in the Florida Senate, arguing that a city could not regulate cosmetics and over-the-counter products such as sunscreens. Yet could Florida be the next state to take action on this issue? For those Americans who can see the damage on their doorstep, this could be a helpful step.

Till then, the business community, of likeminded companies, is hoping to lead the way. Duell advises consumers to ensure that they brands they purchase from are actually “reef safe.”

“Always check the label,” she says. “Turn the sunscreen around to the “Drug Facts” section and look for the active ingredients. If the ingredient list contains any of The Awful Eight chemicals, don’t use it!”

This Brighter Side of News post courtesy of the Forbes.


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