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Sunscreen Protects Your Skin, but Is It Hurting the Environment?

Although there is some debate, it is pretty much universally agreed that people should wear sunscreen to protect against the harmful rays of the sun that can cause wrinkles, leathery tans, and skin cancer. But did you know that while you’re protecting yourself, you could be harming coral reefs?

Chemicals in sunscreen were recently found to bleach coral reefs, making the die and become uninhabitable for the sea creatures that dwell within them. Ironically enough, it’s the same chemicals, parabens, cinnamates, and benzophenones in sunscreen that harm the coral reefs as are sometimes blamed for harming the health of people as well. Hawaii recently banned sunscreens that contain the substances and Florida has told divers to avoid using them as well.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that, when exposed to benzophenone or cinnamate-based sunscreens, coral developed viral infections that led to bleaching. The Green Guide reveals that Seventy-eight million tourists visit areas with coral reefs every year, leaving behind 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen and because many sunscreens are petroleum-based, they don't break down quickly in water. Not only that, these chemicals also don’t protect against UVA rays, which may do at least as much damage to your skin as UVB rays.

While it is still debatable the effect these chemicals have on human health, based on the damage they do to coral reefs, you may want to think about avoiding them. Instead of the chemical sunscreens, try mineral options, which use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to block both UVB and UVA rays. Sites Skin Deep, the Cosmetic Safety Database by Environmental Working Group, allow you to check the safety of your sunscreen by looking up either the brand name or active ingredients.

As the days grow longer and warmer and you prepare to spend more time in the sun, make sure your sunscreen is safe for everyone.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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