Today’s blog post is a guest contribution from mom of four, former teacher, and healthy kids cooking advocate, Katie Kimball–who is also a self-professed sunscreen geek. In this post, Katie informs us of the importance of using reef-friendly–not just “natural” sunscreen–and also discusses the problem of greenwashing in the sunscreen industry. Katie’s also shared links to more helpful information, including a reef-friendly sunscreen guide. Enjoy, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!

sunscreen must be reef-friendlyThis February, just in time to avoid having our trip foiled by the stay-at-home orders, 13 family members fulfilled my mother-in-law’s dream of 40 years and traveled to Hawaii.

As much as I was in awe of the natural beauty and impossible volcanic landscapes, I got even more jazzed up talking about reef-friendly sunscreen with the owner of the Zodiac snorkeling trip.

You see, my family and I have literally been A-B testing mineral sunscreens for review since 2010. We’re up at well over 100 now. It’s such a passion of mine, that I’ve interviewed sunscreen formulators, worked with lawyers close to the sunscreen ingredient ban in Hawaii, and even been cited in a press release from the lab that started the whole process of banning oxybenzone and octinoxate for killing the coral reefs.

Greenwashing is hitting sunscreen hard

I was definitely the sunscreen geek cringing when uninformed vacationers were clearly using conventional sunscreen brands that will be illegal in the great state of Hawaii come 2021.

Greenwashing is hitting the sunscreen industry hard.I started offering my natural sunscreens on every excursion in case people needed something safe for humans AND coral reefs. I was at once proud and devastated when I heard a story from another American mainlander who had the best of intentions.

She said she tried to do the right thing and order “reef-friendly” sunscreen on Amazon.

“I read the label,” she said. “It said reef-friendly right there. But then when we went snorkeling yesterday, the captain wouldn’t let us put it on. He took one look at the back of the bottle and said it’s still not safe enough.”

I felt proud that marine-life-loving crusaders have gotten the word out that reef-safe sunscreen is necessary!

But let’s be honest: even though the captain of the boat didn’t allow all the chemical sunscreens, we all know that most people had already applied their first layer before they even got out there. That meant more coral reef killers floating away on the waves.

I’m angry that it’s so easy to walk into Costco or log into Amazon Prime and get completely hoodwinked to the detriment of the environment and our children’s future reproductive health!

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Greenwashing is bound to happen the moment anything goes into effect that threatens the big brands.

Why use reef-friendly sunscreen

Black woman sunbathing on the beachThe new law in Hawaii, which goes into effect in the summer of 2021, bans the two most dangerous ingredients for the coral reefs: oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Haereticus Labs proved that those two harm the coral reefs, but it’s so much more than that.

They’re also absolutely not safe for humans, causing serious endocrine disruption and found in 97% of American urine. They’re pervasive in our water supply and environment, and they really need to go. (Read more about the FDA’s proposed ban on sunscreen ingredients.)

Another study by Haereticus Labs proved that these ingredients “cause endocrine disruption to reproductive physiology, such as reduced sperm density, reduced prostate in juveniles, changes in the estrous cycle, and reduction in immunity. In one clinical study, boys who were exposed to oxybenzone exhibited lower testosterone levels. Oxybenzone exposure has also been linked to increases in endometriosis, alters lactation expression, as well as some birth defects.” Press release

What does reef-safe sunscreen mean?

We don’t need these toxicants on our skin or in the environment, and it shouldn’t be so hard to avoid them.

There are already hundreds of brands of sunscreen using safe, natural, mineral active ingredients that are 100% safe for coral reefs.

Person snorkeling in coral reefUnfortunately, the big brands have looked at this new law and are following it to the letter.

They’re only getting rid of those two offensive ingredients and slapping “reef-friendly” on the label so travelers can go to Hawaii with their products.

They’re still leaving in other chemical actives, which carry with them most of the same problems, just not quite as well proven (yet). That’s why the snorkel captain flipped over the tube and immediately told the travelers it wasn’t enough. He’s so close to the devastation of the coral reefs–we’ve lost half of the Great Barrier Reef since 2016 alone! Source: National Geographic

Experts know that all of the chemical sunscreen actives are wreaking havoc on marine life, not just the coral reefs. These ingredients, like octocrylene, avobenzone, homosalate, parabens and more can also damage the reproduction and other systems in green algae, dolphins, mussels, fish, and sea urchins. Source

So what can you look for so that you aren’t greenwashed by the new “reef-friendly” sunscreen that only follows the letter of the law?

It’s actually ridiculously simple. Under the “active ingredients,” you want only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Why zinc oxide only for safe sunscreen

I encourage you to choose zinc oxide only, for a few reasons:

  • There are some potential risks to titanium dioxide being a heavy metal.
  • Zinc oxide is fully broad spectrum all by itself.
  • Zinc oxide is also the only active sunscreen ingredient rated safe for babies under six months old. You may recognize it as the active ingredient in diaper cream as well.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’ll look like you’ve applied diaper cream to your face! The zinc percentage is lower in sunscreen than diaper cream, and formulators are getting pretty good at getting it to blend in clearly or they add tints so that you can’t see the white cast on your skin.

Bottom line: good for the environment, safe for humans

For me, there’s no contest. Ocean life and my future grandchildren win out every day over a sunscreen that’s potentially a little easier to apply.

Don’t get greenwashed! Hop on over and I’ll share the best zinc oxide, reef-safe sunscreens out there out of 100 brands that my kids have had to endure for the last 10 years.

We know what works! We know what goes on smoothly.

And we can help you cut through all the greenwashed labeling that’s so confusing, whether you get to travel to Hawaii or are just hanging out in your backyard, trying have some safe fun in the sun.

Author bio:

Katie Kimball, expert on reef-friendly sunscreenKatie Kimball, the national voice of healthy kids cooking, is a blogger, former teacher, and mom of 4 kids who founded the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse. Her blog, Kitchen Stewardship helps families stay healthy without going crazy, and she’s on a mission to connect families around healthy food and teach every child in America to cook. She also happens to be a total sunscreen geek, having tested over 100 natural mineral formulas on her hapless children and pale husband.

Was this information about reef-friendly sunscreen new to you?

Did any of the information in today’s post surprise you? Or were you already a pro with using zinc oxide-based, reef-safe sunscreen? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!