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How do (some) sunscreens harm coral reefs?

How do (some) sunscreens harm coral reefs?

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet, and they’re a crucial part of the ocean’s food chain. They’re also incredibly sensitive to pollution—and sunscreen is one of the biggest culprits. The most common type of chemical sunscreen contains oxybenzone, which is toxic to coral reefs. According to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), just a small amount of oxybenzone can cause coral bleaching in both tropical and temperate waters.

What kinds of sunscreen are bad for coral reefs? 

First of all, we need to look at how sunscreens work. There are two different types of sunscreen you can find in the market: 

Mineral Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens are made from minerals, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They’re also called physical sunscreens because they physically block UV rays from your skin. Mineral sunscreens have been shown to be less harmful to coral reefs than chemical ones because they don’t contain any chemicals that break down into harmful compounds in water. 

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens are typically made from chemicals that absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat. These sunscreens are usually more lightweight and they don’t leave a white cast (which is really important for people with darker skin tones). However, some of these chemicals can be toxic to marine organisms, including corals, but not all of them! Here’s where we need to talk about specific ingredients, like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. But more on that later!  

What is coral bleaching? 

Coral are bright and colorful because of microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live within the coral in a mutually beneficial relationship, each helping the other survive. But when the ocean environment changes, the coral stresses out and expels the algae. As the algae leaves, the coral fades until it looks like it’s been bleached. If the temperature stays high, the coral won’t let the algae back, and the coral will die.

Source: NOAA

Does sunscreen bleach coral reefs? 

One of the main reasons for bleaching is, of course, climate change. But scientists have also realized that sunscreen filters like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate can harm them even further. In a new study, scientists at Stanford University found that oxybenzone is converted from a UV blocker to a “phototoxin” inside the cells of anemone and coral (a photoxin is a chemical that becomes toxic when exposed to sunlight). 

Hawaii and Key West have already banned sunscreens that contain oxybenzone from their beaches, and the U.S. National Park Service is considering following suit. The chemical in question is found in more than 3,500 different sunscreen products.

What does reef-safe mean? 

The terms “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” are not regulated, so beware! Always remember to check the active ingredients in your sunscreen, because companies could be tricking you (if you haven’t heard about greenwashing, we wrote a blog post about it!). 

Here’s a list of all the UV filters you need to avoid (according to NOAA): 

  • Oxybenzone
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene

Fortunately, there are alternatives out there that won’t harm the environment. For example, some brands offer lightweight chemical sunscreens made with avobenzone instead of oxybenzone. You can also choose mineral sunscreens (although they might be a little heavier). 

We recommend the Public Goods spray sunscreen, which you can find in our shop! It’s vegan and it offers broad-spectrum SPF50 protection. Check it out! 


How sustainable is bamboo?

You might have noticed that bamboo objects are everywhere, and they claim to be a more sustainable option than plastic. The good news is: it totally is! Bamboo is a fast-growing crop, which means it uses less land than wood or plant. It’s also 100% biodegradable, and is a much better alternative to plastic.

But, why is bamboo sustainable? 

Bamboo doesn’t need fertilizer because it absorbs nutrients from the soil through its roots. This means less waste runoff into our water supply and less pollution overall. When it is harvested, the nutrients stay in place with the plant instead of being released into our waterways when we remove them from their natural habitat

Other sustainable bamboo facts:

Is bamboo grass? 

Bamboo has been around for thousands of years, and it’s been used in everything from food to architecture. It’s a fast-growing, woody grass (yes, it’s not a tree) that can reach heights of up to 130 feet. Unlike regular wood, growing it is sustainable and doesn’t harm the environment. 

bamboo sustainable

How fast does it grow?

It grows quickly, reaching maturity in just four years. In fact, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet: it can grow as much as 3 feet per day! This rapid growth makes it an ideal material for many uses from construction to paper products.

Do bamboo roots regrow? 

Bamboo can be harvested every few years without needing to be replanted, unlike other types of trees. So, apart from growing fast, it self-regenerates from its own roots, so it doesn’t need to be replanted. 

How much oxygen does it produce? 

One of the biggest environmental benefits of bamboo is its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. It produces 35% more oxygen than other trees, and research has shown that it can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Is it compostable? 

Yes, it’s compostable! That means when you’re done with your product (whether that’s a toothbrush or a cotton bud), you can put it right into your compost bin where it will biodegrade safely and responsibly into new plants and soil within just 60 days or so.

It’s also remarkably versatile, with uses ranging from paper to building materials to clothing. In fact, it’s being used to replace plastic in all sorts of applications: from toothbrushes to flooring to cups and plates. 

bamboo toothbrush

So, what are you waiting for? It’s really easy to change a few habits to be more sustainable, especially when it comes to disposable objects like toothbrushes and cotton swabs. At Ntdf.* we have a wide array of bamboo products for you to choose from, which you can find over here. Join the bamboo revolution! 

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