Protecting Against the Sun While Protecting Planet
by Rachel FeidelmanEven though Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day this year, predicting six more weeks of winter, warm weather is here. Warm weather means spending more time outside which, in turn, means breaking out the sunscreen. While wearing sunscreen proves countless benefits, the negative environmental impacts are massive as well.
John Sottery of IMS Inc. explains, “a sunscreen product acts like a very thin bulletproof vest, stopping the UV photons before they can reach the skin and inflict damage.” Furthermore, in 2013, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study of 900 random Australian citizens, proving that those who wore sunscreen more frequently aged more gently. These benefits of sunscreen and dozens more have been proven; however, multiple downfalls have been explored also.
An article from the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology reveals that oxybenzone, a chemical found in over 3,500 brands of sunscreen internationally, kills coral when even small amounts are released into the ocean. Researchers also worry that this chemical may affect the hormones and cells of humans, but no proof has been found to date. The Centers for Disease Control found that over 97 percent of Americans have traces of oxybenzone in their bodies, the largest contributor to that statistic being sunscreen.
These contrasting impacts of sunscreen bring up the question of: is there a way to protect my skin from the harsh rays of the sun while minimizing the environmental impact? The answer is still a work in progress. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) motto is: “Sunscreen should be your last resort.” In order to maintain healthy skin without damaging yourself and the planet, EWG encourages finding shade or making your own if necessary, wearing clothing when outside, planning your activities around the sun, and checking the UV Index frequently.
Rachel Feidelman is a student at the University of Maryland, studying journalism and economics. She is also an editorial intern with Natural Awakenings.