Style / Beauty & Wellness

The Rise in Awareness and Importance of Ocean-Safe Products

The rise in awareness of ocean-safe practices is attributed to the significant threats skincare chemicals pose to marine life and a call for the world to practice conscious consumerism.

Jun 03, 2024 | By Larissa Fay Wong
The Rise in Awareness and Importance of Ocean-Safe Products
Photo: National Geographic

While SPF is essential in our daily routines, we may destroy our oceans with them. Just as humans lose colour when they are ill, the vibrant corals in the sea are losing their radiance at an alarming rate. This is known as “coral bleaching”, a result of non-reef-safe products polluting their habitat and the rise in temperatures causing coral to expel algae in their tissue and turn completely white. According to the Nationwide Assessment of Coral Reefs findings, a worrying third of the world’s corals have been destroyed in the last 20 years. This is due to the stressors from climate change and other local pressures — such as overfishing and water quality degradation — based on the findings of the UN Environment Programme(UNEP). To put the severe degradation of corals into perspective, reef degradation is twice as fast as rainforests, meaning that they will be gone in 30 years if action is not taken. LUXUO will explore the harmful effects of skincare chemicals on the depleting population of coral reefs and marine life.

Rightfully so, with the devastating effects of human negligence, we are seeing an increase in awareness in this realm. The terms “Reef safe” and “Ocean safe” — typically used interchangeably — are gaining more popularity within the public consciousness. Are we a part of the problem? Most definitely, yes. While the sunscreens and dyes from our swimwear might not be perceived as a significant threat to the health of our world’s coral reefs, recent research has proven otherwise.

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Impact of Common Skincare Chemicals on Marine Life

The Rise in Awareness and Importance of Ocean-Safe Products
Photo: ABC News

Back in 2022, The National Academy of Sciences conducted a study examining the effects of common skincare chemicals on coral reefs and found damning results, presenting the profound impact of these products on marine life. Chemicals like octinoxate, oxybenzone and enzacamene, ingredients most commonly found in sunscreens to function as UV light absorbers, have demonstrated its ability to cause complete coral bleaching, even at low concentrations. What may seem harmless can have devastating effects, given that once our sunscreened skin comes into contact with ocean water, these chemicals can impair the DNA of corals. Thus, this weakening their defenses, interfering with their growth, and negatively affecting reproduction as a result of an accumulation in the organism’s tissue. Other organisms — like green algae — suffer impaired growth and photosynthesis, as well as numerous species of marine animals — like dolphins, fish, sea urchins and mussels, among many others — will suffer adverse effects on reproductive functions.

These harmful chemicals have a profound effect on the overall workings of the entire marine ecosystem. Accumulated concentrations of harmful chemicals start a domino effect from habitat loss due to a depleted coral population, lower oxygen levels from less green algae, and an increasingly imbalanced food chain, thus affecting the natural ecosystem and biodiversity. Additionally, marine life is so much more than meets the eye; it provides nutrients in food and livelihood through fishing and tourism. Therefore, this is an extreme call to action for the world to practice conscious consumerism to prevent the devastating effects of the chemical pollutants in the ocean.

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Brands and Their Efforts in Adopting Eco-Conscious Approaches

The Rise in Awareness and Importance of Ocean-Safe Products
Photo: Vilebrequin

With the dire urgency of this matter, numerous brands have adopted more ocean-aware approaches, including renowned products like Nivea’s Sun Protect & Sensitive Protective Sunscreen Spray, Cetaphil’s Sheer Mineral Face Liquid Sunscreen and Kora Organics’ Silky Sundrops Mineral Sunscreen. In addition to multiple indie brands that have built their businesses on reef-safe products like Thinksport, Maui Naturals and Suntegrity among many others, specialise in reef-safe products.

Kora Organics, Silky Sun Drops 100% Mineral Sunscreen Serum SPF 30

The physical sunscreen is absent of harmful chemicals and contains zinc-oxide, one of the two reef-safe ingredients recommended by the FDA

Think, Thinksport, Sunscreen, SPF 50

Indie brand Think, produces clean alternatives to everyday products. This one in particular is a 100% mineral zinc-oxide based sunscreen and free of harmful chemicals like BPA, Parabens, Oxybenzone and Avobenzone, making it 100% reef-safe.

Not limited to skincare, swimwear brands also incorporate ocean-safe practices in garment production. Most notably, the French luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequin built its brand based on sustainable production and significant value on ocean awareness in the dying process. That being said, collective consumerism of ocean and reef-safe products, in addition to raising awareness, has massive potential to provide hope for the long-term health of coral reefs in the coming years. As evidenced by UNEP’s report, their research findings also have some positives in learning that the world’s coral reefs remain resilient and can recover if conditions improve in water temperatures and water quality. Hence, consumers must adopt ocean and reef-safe practices to aid in the recovery of the world’s waters.

Effects on Human Health

Another compelling factor of switching to products that do not include common chemicals like octinoxate and oxybenzone is that these ingredients are also harmful to human health. Research has shown that sunscreens containing these pose a risk to human health, shown to have diverse effects on the reproductive system and increasing risk of hormone-related cancers. The extremely high risks have prompted the ban of certain ingredients in some countries and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on sunscreen safety. Thus, in the relevant regulations, the FDA strongly urges products containing zinc-oxide and titanium-oxide, two main components of a safe sunscreen that protects both oceans and humans.

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Taking Responsibility as Consumers

Increased awareness plays a significant part in recovering coral reefs and the marine ecosystem. Every consumer can contribute to reducing ocean pollution by adopting more ocean-conscious practices; with every person, efforts will be made stronger towards this vital aim. Therefore, collective consumerism will aid in this feat due to raised awareness of such chemicals and their dangers. While the spike in ocean and reef-safe awareness and products benefits the environment and marine life, it also gives way to greenwashing schemes by brands intended to be used as a money grab by pushing a false image of being sustainable and environmentally friendly. Hence, consumers must look into the ingredient list and traceability of products purchased. This is because, as consumers, we need to take responsibility and accountability for the products we purchase and the ingredients we put into our skin and the oceans.

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