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Doctors and parents alike have been advising individuals to wear sunscreen to preserve their skin and prevent skin cancer for years. However, newer research has found that some of the chemicals in these products could be harmful to the environment. What should an environmentally and health conscious person do?

Environmental Impacts of Sunscreen

One of the ingredients in sunscreen, oxybenzone, has been shown by studies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to negatively impact coral reefs. Oxybenzone is a member of a class of chemicals known as benzophenones and has been used in sunscreens since the late 1970’s. Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful yet delicate ecosystems in the world, and are already in danger from commercial pollutants, tourism, and fishing industries.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that the UV blockers in sunscreen can bleach coral, damage algae growth and could potentially be toxic to marine life. This isn’t just caused by divers and swimmers wearing sunscreen, as polluted water from showers and pools can run into local waterways and into the oceans. For areas that rely on coral reef tourism like Hawaii, Florida, Palau, and Australia, certain ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate are being banned to try to protect the ocean and its related industries.

Still, research so far has been limited to a few studies where this “environmental toxicity” has only been found in the laboratory, and under very different conditions that a nature living ocean reef. Additionally, the primary cause of coral bleaching is ocean warming, not sunscreen pollutants.

Health Impacts of Sunscreen

Sunscreen has undeniable health benefits for the individual. According to theĀ Skin Cancer Foundation, regular sunscreen use can reduce an person’s chances of skin cancer by 40-50%. Sunscreen can also keep your skin healthier and younger-looking by preventing wrinkles, freckles, and other blemishes. The Skin Cancer Foundation even recommends wearing sunscreen on cloudy days, as ~80% of the sun’s UV radiation still reaches the earth, meaning that blockers like benzophenones are important whenever you’re outside. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to always be wearing the highest SPF (Sun Protection Factor) available, however, as SPF 15 is recommended for short-term outdoor exposure, and SPF 30 is the minimum for long-term outdoor usage.

What’s Best?

For the individual, environmental and personal health concerns can be difficult to balance. Fortunately, dermatologists are here to help. Schedule an appointment today to determine your perfect skincare routine.