Finally, Reef-Safe Sunscreens Are All the Rage

CC BY 2.0. Fort George A. Meade Public Affairs Office

And the big brands aren't too happy about it.

Yesterday the governor of Hawaii, David Ig, signed into law the first-ever statewide ban on sunscreens that contain chemicals harmful to coral reefs. The story has garnered international headlines and has led a number of other destinations to consider similar bans. The Caribbean island of Bonaire recently declared a ban on chemical sunscreens, and several environmental non-profits are urging an end to sunscreen pollution in California, Colorado, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Not only that, but the anti-chemical sunscreen movement has caught on among travellers, giving a well-deserved boost to an industry that's been trying to get its message across for years. More people are seeking natural alternatives after reading these stories and learning what chemical sunscreens do to marine wildlife. One friend told me he was given free samples of physical sunblock on a plane landing in Hawaii, and another was told by a Mexican resort that she had to pack reef-safe sunscreen for her vacation. What was once a fringe environemental movement is finally mainstream.

Fast Company reported on the growth of the eco-friendly sunscreen industry. All Good is a California-based manufacturer that's been in business since 2005, long before most of us were even aware of why it might be a good idea. Now All Good's sales (under $5 million last year) are growing at 50 percent annually.

Nova Covington, owner of organic skincare company Goddess Garden, said she was contacted by a major retailer the day Hawaii's ban was announced, to see if she could supply them with reef-safe sunscreen. Now, Goddess Garden

"sells its regulation-compliant sunscreen at nearly 25,000 retail locations nationwide, including Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and Whole Foods. In the coming year, [Covington] plans to increase the prominence of its 'reef safe' messaging through its website, advertising, packaging, and in-store displays."
person swimming in clear water

Unsplash/Public Domain

I've noticed a significant difference in availability. Whereas I used to order reef-safe sunblocks online, now I can find great options at my local pharmacy, such as Thinksport, a top-rated brand by the EWG.

The formulas have improved, as well. In the past they tended to be greasy, sticky creams that left an impossible-to-absorb white film. Now, when I apply sunscreens such as Thinksport, Raw Elements (it even comes in plastic-free!), or All Good, the whiteness goes away almost immediately and it feels nearly as well-absorbed as conventional sunscreen.

Big brands like Johnson & Johnson (which makes Neutrogena), Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, and Bayer (Coppertone's owner), and even the American Academy of Dermatology, continue to dispute the ban, raising concerns over increased skin cancer rates if people start using less sunscreen. But as FastCo points out, the research has been conducted by a number of reputable institutions, including the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the non-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Hawaii, and all have come up with the same conclusion that UV-filtering chemicals, known as benzophenones, are harmful. Knowing that, who would you rather listen to -- the scientists or the industry that relies on you believing these chemicals are safe?

As long as the eco-friendly alternatives continue to be effective, affordable, and just as accessible as their conventional counterparts, there is every reason to believe they'll occupy a greater chunk of market share in the years to come -- happy news for all of us tree- and reef-huggers out there.