We are excited to see Key West follow Hawaii’s lead to ban two chemicals found in common sunscreens, but it’s important to remember ALL petrochemicals are harmful to people and planet. Still, we’re glad to see communities learning, reading and moving away from sunscreens with human and marine toxins — it’s a good start.
Roughly 15,000 tons of sunscreen petrochemicals wash into the oceans each year (that’s the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every 3 years or less), and research shows many of these damage coral. As ocean temperatures rise, the algae that feed coral dissipate, causing coral to bleach and eventually die. Petrochemicals in sunscreen can cause bleaching to occur at lower temperatures.
As a Florida company, the Florida Keys sunscreen ban hits home. We’re frequent visitors to Islamorada and have personally seen the diminished reef environment since the 1980’s. Yes there are many factors damaging reef eco-systems, but sunscreen bans are a step in the right direction.
The Trouble with these Sunscreen Bans
These bans mostly focus on two specific petrochemicals (oxybenzone and octinoxate), and they were an admirable first step in making sunscreens safer. Unfortunately, it has caused several significant misunderstandings:
1. Allows for other PetrochemicalsIt has allowed petrochemical sunscreens that don’t contain the 2 banned ingredients to make bogus claims that they are “reef safe” – simply because they don’t contain those ingredients. The fact is that sunscreens with ANY petrochemicals, including avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, are dangerous to both humans and marine live, and that’s because these chemicals are direct oil derivatives, and not at all matched to human or marine biosystems.
2. Confusing InformationIt has solidified the popular misconception that petrochemicals are bad for reefs but OK for humans. This is absolutely FALSE. Marketing messages are often wrong or misleading. Ingredients MATTER.
3. Tragic Ban FailureIt is setting up a tragic ban failure. Since it allows many petrochemicals, it’s simply not going to work, and when it doesn’t, petrochemical lobbyists will quickly tell lawmakers, “See? Petrochemicals aren’t the problem.” The logic is convoluted, but in an adversarial informational environment, such illogical conclusions will be given weight.
All Waxhead sunscreens and skincare products exceed all ban standards and are safe to use in Hawaii, Bonaire, Palau, Key West, and Mexico.
Moving Forward: Two-Part Solution
It may be that government intervention isn’t the best way to solve this problem. Instead, we see education and good faith marketing as the best long term strategy.
Healthy skincare companies and true skincare experts need to educate consumers, dermatologists, and the mass media about sunscreen ingredients. It’s vital to know all active and inactive ingredients in your sunscreen. It’s simply not enough to just avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate — all petrochemicals should be avoided.
Keep in mind, not all sunscreens labeled “natural” or “reef-safe” are actually safe for marine environments or people. The safest, most effective UVA-UVB-UVC broad-spectrum coverage is only delivered by sunscreens using 25% non-nano zinc oxide as their only active ingredient. Titanium dioxide is much safer than petrochemicals, but it doesn’t cover the entire UV spectrum (zinc oxide is the only active ingredient that does), it’s less stable in UV light, causing more free radicals, and it can be toxic if it enters the bloodstream.
NON-NANO zinc oxide contains individual particles all larger than nanoparticle size, large enough that they will NOT seep through human skin pores, and they will NOT enter living marine systems.
Any sunscreen that uses NON-NANO zinc oxide (or titanium dioxide) is completely reef safe. Some zinc oxide sunscreens use NANO size particles, in order to make them spread easier and to show less white, but these DO ENTER marine systems and damage them. There is a HUGE difference between non-nano and nano zinc oxide. Any person, including many skincare “experts,” who says mineral sunscreens are bad for reefs, without understanding the difference between nano and non-nano, is dangerously misinformed.
2. Product Development
The sunscreen industry needs to develop and market more products to protect consumers’ long term health and reduce negative effects on our marine systems.
So far, many skincare companies that make cheap petrochemical sunscreens are starting to pay attention to growing consumer awareness. And instead of shifting wholesale to better products, they’re fighting back with misinformation from so-called industry experts.
Common messages are “the kind of sunscreen isn’t important, as long as you wear a 15 SPF or higher” or “there’s no clear evidence that petrochemicals are bad for reefs or people.” Many such experts, even dermatologists, refer to zinc oxide as a physical sun “blocker” that “reflects” UV light.
This is actually not true – zinc oxide reflects VISIBLE light (what we see), but it ABSORBS UV rays, then converts them into infrared energy, which radiates safely away from the skin. How zinc oxide actually works is akin to semantics, but the misunderstanding effectively illustrates that many skincare “experts” don’t really understand all the biochemistry realities of sunscreen.
(Lots of similar misinformed experts told us for years that smoking might be OK, too. And it’s our job to get the facts to those who want to pay attention.)
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.