Is sun cream protecting your health? How sun cream destroys marine life

by | August 20, 2018

I love summer, sun, and the beach. Here in Sydney, Australia, we have plenty of all three.

My last swim at the local beach, however, left my sensitive skin feeling itchy. The water had a greasy, dirty looking film of cosmetic residue floating on the surface.

Back on my towel, I accidentally inhaled a thick cloud of fragrance, which made me cough. The lady on the other end of the beach was liberally spraying a sunscreen mist all over her body and unintentionally coating her surroundings as well.

As a natural beauty writer and eco-makeup artist, I had to wonder, what kinds of ingredients were in all these products? Are they actually safe or are they polluting the water and endangering people’s health? How harmful are all these sunscreen products?

marine life

Marine Life




According to forensic eco-toxicologist, Craig Downs, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in the marine life parks around the world each year. His study from 2015, published in the journal, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found that the chemicals often found in sunscreens can have a wide variety of detrimental effects on coral, including mortality, coral bleaching, and genetic damage to coral and other sea life. It also found that oxybenzone and octinoxate, both common ingredients in sunscreen lotions, can result in feminization in adult male fish and a heightened risk of reproductive diseases in both ocean life and some land mammals. Oxybenzone and octinoxate have also been found to create neurological behavioral changes in fish and could even have an effect on some endangered species, such as sea turtles.

The two most damaging ingredients, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, have now been banned in Hawaii, taking full effect by the year 2021. This ban is a good start, but it’s not enough. There are still too many questionable ingredients found even in so-called “reef safe” products. Many marine life park locations around the world are encouraging visitors to switch to biodegradable sunscreens that pose a lesser threat to the environment.

Here are some tips for finding safe sun protection:

  • Only use toxin-free sunscreens.
  • Look for mineral sunscreens using Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide in non-nano form
  • Make sure the label states “reef safe”
  • Avoid the following ingredients:
  • Oxybenzone aka BP-3 or Benzophenone-3: This chemical blocks UV rays from reaching your skin and is found in most common sunscreens, it’s a cheap ingredient. It has proven to be highly allergenic and poses many health risks, from hormone disruption to contact dermatitis.
  • Parabens: Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, and Isobutylparaben are preservatives in cosmetics. They can mimic the hormone estrogen, disrupting the endocrine system. Parabens are known to play a role in the development of breast cancers and fertility problems. Studies indicate that Methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. There is still a lot to learn about these chemicals and it’s best to avoid them.
  • Retinyl palmitate: Unfortunately, this is found in a quarter of sunscreens. In mice, retinyl palmitate increased the risk of skin cancer when exposed to the sun. (But the research regarding humans is inconclusive.)
  • Synthetic Fragrance/Perfume: On the label, it will only say “perfume” or “fragrance.” Health problems caused by some of these chemicals include hormone disruption, headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation etc. It is best to avoid any cosmetic that has the word “fragrance” or “perfume” on the ingredients label.
  • Go for lotions and creams rather then sprays. Sprays are easily inhaled and more likely to be released into the environment (and your lungs!).
  • If you are snorkeling, surfing, or spending long times in the sea, consider covering your body with a wetsuit and use clothing as sun protection whenever possible.
  • Avoid midday sun and get your healthy dose of sunshine in the morning or late afternoon instead.
  • Switch all your cosmetics to toxin-free to avoid polluting the environment and waterways.
marine life

While it will still be a long time before we see a worldwide ban on these pollutants, in the meantime, it’s best to be proactive and avoid using sun lotions that damage marine life.  

With the few easy steps above you can now find safe, healthy sunscreen products.

We owe it to the animals, future generations, and ourselves to protect the oceans.

Liv Lundelius

Liv is a professional international makeup artist and green beauty expert based in Sydney Australia. Specializing in cruelty-free makeup and skincare products, she also teaches workshops and makeup master classes, sharing her knowledge of anything organic and beautiful. Follow her family’s green living journey on their blog Liv Life Mag.



One Response to “Is sun cream protecting your health? How sun cream destroys marine life”

  1. Cheapcialis
    August 23rd, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

    Liv Lundelius, thanks a lot for the post.Really thank you! Much obliged.

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