"Wear sunscreen, if I could offer you only one tip for the future, sun screen would be it. The long term benefits have been proven by scientists."
These are the lyrics by Baz Luhrmann to his song "Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunsreen". They sound like the advice your parents give you on a hot summer day. These days, most of us know not to believe everything we are told. There is now more and more research that shows that there is a higher risk of malignant melanoma for those that use sunscreen often. Now this is not to say that you should not wear sunscreen at all because it does help protect you from the damaging rays of the sun. You should, however, do your research on what kind of sunscreen you are using.
There are two main types of sun screen; mineral barrier and chemical barrier. Mineral barriers create a physical barrier to the sun whereas chemical barriers have the ability to absorb and dissipate UV rays. The most common chemical used is oxybenzone. The Environmental Working Group has warned against using this chemical especially on children or pregnant/breast feeding women. Chemical blocks are absorbed into your body and have been linked with cancer growth and can disrupt hormones.
It appears then, that mineral based sunscreen is the safest type of sun screen. We must, however, also consider what activities we are doing when we wear sunscreen. Often, its when we are on holiday lazing at the beach or by water of some kind, be it a swimming pool, lake or the sea. We all must be aware that he waters reflective surface bounces the suns rays back up at us making it easier to burn.
Most of the ingredients in mineral sunscreen are non-biodegradable that are harmful to coral reefs and, in higher doses, can be fatal to some marine life and even birds. These chemicals then wash off our bodies, contaminating the water and, if in the sea or lakes, damages very fragile ecosystems that are already under threat.
If you’re diving just go easy on the sunscreen. Make sure it is applied at least half an hour before diving and fully rubbed in to your skin. If you’re diving a lot all day then think about if you really need any at all. When repetitive diving, you need to make sure your fully hydrated through out the day and sitting in the sun in-between dives will certainly dehydrate you a lot faster so just stay in the shade. It keeps you safer from decompression sickness and helps protect coral.
Please consider that there are brands of sun protection out there that will not only be better for coral reefs but also for you as well. Look for a brand that has natural and biodegradable ingredients and in general avoid anything with oxybenzone.