Think Twice Before Applying that Sunscreen by Mollie Wilkins

Last spring, my friend Kirsten and I were doing some research on clean beauty products when we stumbled across an article in The Guardian that gave us pause. Serious pause. The article was about how the chemical oxybenzone – found in most big brand sunscreens – can detrimentally harm the oceans and reefs of the world. In fact, recent research determined that even a drop of oxybenzone in an ocean area the size of six-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools detrimentally harms coral and its ability to reproduce. As mothers of young children, we had to wonder, “If one little drop can do that much damage to an ecosystem, what is it doing to our bodies?”

We reached out to Dr. Craig Downs, one of the scientists quoted in the article, and within a half hour we had a reply. “Ladies, it’s worse than you think and I need your help,” was his response.

Oxybenzone is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it mimics hormones – especially in pre-pubescent children – and has been linked to early puberty in girls, low sperm count and male infertility, and an increase in hormone-related cancers in men and women. Adding to this is the issue that sunscreen comes off when you swim – be it in an ocean, lake or pool. So even if you aren’t wearing the harmful chemical, the minute you swim with someone else who might be, you are being exposed. To that end, Dr. Downs told us he no longer feels comfortable letting his kids swim in public pools. Yikes.

The good news is that awareness has been raised and more and more headlines are shedding light on the situation. However, consumers still don’t really think twice before reaching for that bottle of Coppertone. As long as the SPF is the right number, they think that it’s ok. But it’s not ok. It’s not ok for our planet and it’s not ok for our kids.

There are options. More and more safe, mineral sunscreens are coming on the market each year. But scientists warn that even if they claim to be “reef friendly,” there is still next to no regulation in the industry. That’s why reading the ingredients list is so important.

So how can we help? We need to educate ourselves and spread the word so that this harmful chemical can finally be banned. As Dr. Downs put it, “Moms are the key – they are the secret weapon, the ace up the sleeve.” Moms listen to other moms. Especially when it comes to protecting our children and the environment. So start the conversation. Make informed decisions. Read labels. Ask questions. We can all make a difference just by making better, safer choices. And every little bit does count – for our oceans and for our children.


Mollie and Kirsten are clean beauty advocates. You can follow them on Instagram @rebelsinthesix

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