The Phoenix Flyer

Research group ranks sunscreens for safety to humans and FL coral reefs

By: - May 27, 2022 11:07 am

Cheeca Rocks is one of the seven coral reefs under threat from disease and water pollution that is targeted for rescue in Mission: Iconic Reefs. Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The safest sunscreens for humans and for Florida’s deteriorating coral reefs are listed in a new guide based on research by the Environmental Working Group, a national nonprofit organization that studies chemicals in sunscreens, cosmetics, food, and tap water.

EWG’s 2022 “Guide to Sunscreens” cites scores of mineral-based lotions, sticks and butters with top safety ratings for children, for adults, and for coral reefs that scientists say are sensitive to the chemical ingredients contained in most conventional sunscreens.

Here are keys to choosing safer sunscreens, according to the research group:

Choose products that feature minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the only sunscreen ingredients deemed “safe and effective” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reduce risk of sunburn and skin cancer without harming human health nor polluting waters where corals live. (Unlike early sunscreens, modern products come in clear and tinted versions).

A sample of sunscreens ranked by the Environmental Working Group as safe for humans and for coral reefs. Products ranked 1 and 2 were deemed safest. Credit: EWB Guide to Sunscreens 2022

Avoid products that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate and other chemicals that are under investigation by the FDA as possible hazards to human health, especially for children.

Avoid sprays and powders, which pose inhalation risks. Choose sticks, lotions and butters instead.

Avoid using sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and other chemicals that the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science says deform corals, induce bleaching, and harm reproduction and development in fish, sea urchins and other marine life. Search for “reef-safe” sunscreens in the guide and choose products with high ratings of 1 or 2.

In Florida, various environmental groups and municipalities fear chemicals sunscreens are further damaging ailing reefs and marine life in the Florida Keys and they attempted to ban their sales and use, as was done in Hawaii.

Those efforts were outlawed by the 2020 Florida Legislature, when legislation by Republican former state Sen. Rob Bradley made it illegal for local governments to take such actions, considered unfriendly to cosmetics and tourism industries.

Mineral-based sunscreens that EWG rates safe for humans and for marine life include products such as ATTITUDE, Badger, Olita, All Good, Earth Mama and scores of others, all available online and some in retail stores.

“Through its research, EWG has discovered that products are not all the same when it comes to UV protection and ingredient hazards, and some sunscreens have serious problems. We continue to press the FDA to issue rules that address these deficiencies,” EWG states in its guide.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.