Sunscreen  -  Our Saviour or Our Doom? 

  At a very young age it has been instilled in all of us to wear sunscreen no matter where we go, whether it’s a day at the beach or a sunny stroll in the park. This is because sunscreen is like a bullet proof vest that helps protect our skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. There are two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, which contributes to skin aging, and UVB, which contributes to skin burning. Exposure to both types of UV radiation increases the chance of skin cancer which, if left untreated, could be fatal. Sunscreen has two ingredients: inorganic components like titanium dioxide which creates a physical barrier reflecting the waves and organic components such as Oxybenzone that absorbs the waves and releases the energy in the form of heat. Although it is important to wear sunscreen, some of our favourite holiday destinations are banning the use of sunscreens.


"Most Sunscreens Can Harm Coral Reefs" - New York Times 2018

Around 6000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash off beachgoers, swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers each year. Furthermore, certain sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that damage coral reefs, which is home to 9 million species of marine life and is vital to our ecosystem. But the corals are dying due to rising sea temperatures and chemicals in certain sunscreens are accelerating that.

 

Since 2019, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Key West, Bonaire, Palau and Mexican destinations have banned sunscreens that contain chemicals which are harmful to coral reefs. These ingredients are also damaging to marine animals such as sea urchins, fish, mussels, green algae and dolphins. Here are four common sunscreen ingredients that are harmful to our underwater ecosystem:

 

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3) - disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, and damages coral DNA. Oxybenzone is found in over 3500 sunscreen products worldwide.

  • Butylparaben - Preservative ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching.

  • Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) - causes coral bleaching.

  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC) - causes coral bleaching.

 

So before you embark on your next trip to the beach, check the back of your sunscreen bottle to make sure it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. You could also pick up some biodegradable sunscreen or water-proof sunblocks, which help reduce the risk of harming the reefs. However, don’t let this information sidetrack you from what’s most important - always wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation!

By Kanlayarak Tangkaravakoon (Fai), a Grad 21 Bangkok Patana School Student

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