Reef Safe Sun Care - A personal opinion from our CEO
I have been thinking about Reef Safe Sun Care for a long time. As an avid scuba diver, I like to scuba dive healthy reefs with an abundance of life - and I would like my children to be able to do this for their lives too. They are scuba divers as well.
When I became CEO of Kiss My Face I began reading about sun care more intently, and learned about some companies claiming their sun care was "reef safe". I wanted Kiss My Face sun care to be reef safe too. But I was confounded as I dug deeper. It seemed every company, using whatever active sun protection ingredient they used, was making a claim it was "reef safe".
Having thought about this for a while, I wanted to take some time to write down our thoughts at Kiss My Face.
First off, I want to point out that I have researched this issue a lot. I have read a lot about reefs and their challenges. I have read every other sun care companies' web sites and opinions - including several in Europe. I find a lot of different opinions, and some research. I have read much of that research. I have talked about this issue with a scientist at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute - and I have read her review of the subject. Having said that, I am not a scientist.
And lets start with the basics. You can reduce your use of sun screen by doing a couple of things. Wear a long sleeve shirt. I know it seems strange to some of us to do this on a hot day in the sun. If you can not bring yourself to wear a long-sleeve shirt, at least wear a shirt. A hat is an equally good idea. I recommend one that covers your ears, too, as opposed to a baseball hat style. If there is some shade, why not sit/lay in the shade a little bit too?
Second, use sun screen. Sun screen protects you from the harmful effects of the sun. It helps reduce the risk of some types of skin cancer. And reapply. Time and time-in-the-water both create a need to reapply. This I think is the #1 thing most people miss when using sun screen. It is important.
Now, what kind of sun screen is most reef safe? First, I have never seen a reef that had as its #1 problem sun screen. Rising global water temperatures appear to pose a huge challenge to reefs. Additionally, pollution and development challenge many of the world's reefs. These forces are causing the amount of living coral reefs in our oceans to shrink dramatically.
As a scuba diver, I seek out beautiful reefs. Ones that are pristine are generally in protected marine areas. And the local communities support this protection because the revenue it creates from tourism supports a healthy economy. Alternatively, pristine reefs are also found in sparsely inhabited areas. People, in my experience, sometimes don't treat reefs with respect. Reefs do not do well when walked on or handled.
There are two schools of thought on reef safe sun care:
-One school-of-thought: Use mineral sun care. The pro's: Minerals are minerals, they come from the ground. When they wash off they fall to the ocean bottom, as any mineral would. The con's: mineral sun care works because the minerals reflect the sun away from your body. Minerals, are essentially, minute rocks. They do not decompose. When the small minerals in mineral sun screen wash off, will they reflect the sun away from the reef, and will that cause any damage?
-A second-school-of-thought: Use sun care with more traditional active ingredients. The pro's: The active ingredients will dissolve in water. The con's: Will the dissolved ingredients effect the living reef in any way?
(If you seek sun care with more traditional ingredients I suggest choosing a brand, like Kiss My Face, that does not use oxybenzone or parabens. In some research I have read those ingredients in extreme concentrations may hurt living reefs.)
There has been some research done by an Italian University on traditional active ingredients. They placed chunks of living coral in to water with (in my judgement) very, very high concentrations of sun care. In those experiments there was some bleaching of the coral (if you want to read more, here is a link to the paper on the subject: Coral bleaching ).
So, what does Kiss My Face recommend to keep reefs safe?
First, support healthy reefs when you travel. Generally protected reefs have some local groups helping protect them. I contribute to those local groups trying to keep reefs healthy as I travel and scuba dive. Try to support healthy reef habits by helping local community groups working to educate and protect their own reefs.
Second, practice safe reef habits when you are at a reef. Don't walk on reefs, don't touch the coral. In my opinion, human handling and kicking of coral does much more damage than any choice of sun care. Encourage those around you to follow the same habits when they are at a reef. In other words: we all have a role in education about how you protect a reef. Speak up. Educate.
If you are really worried about the choice of sun care effecting the reef, my personal opinion is to choose a mineral based sun care - Kiss My Face makes several. The minerals work by reflecting the sun away from your skin, so will they also reflect the sun away from the reef? My belief is that the minerals will have a tendency to be covered up by sand and sea life. And what is more natural than a mineral? Having said that, I have never visited a damaged reef whose #1 problem was sun care - and I do not have an issue with anyone choosing to use non-mineral sun care around a reef.
More than any other letter I have written, these are my opinions. But, I am always reachable at CEO@kissmyface.com if you disagree (or agree, or have other suggestions or information).
At Kiss My Face we have elected not to compete or market products on the basis of "reef safe" claims. I can't be comfortable with that. Two reasons, first, it suggests that your choice of sun care has some significant bearing on the preservation of our reefs. I am not "there" on that. Second, I think there are arguments on both sides, on both kinds of sun prevention ingredients, and I have met people who argue equally passionately, and equally believably, for each. So, we elect to "sit this one out". Not because we don't care, but because we do. If you want some tips on how to keep reefs safe when you are around them, here is a good link with some tips: Snorkeling Tips
So, please, when you are around coral reefs, please practice safe reef habits: don't walk on reefs, don't touch living coral.
CEO and #1 Smoocher