The Search for Sea Safe Sunscreen

The weather in South Florida has been delicious, and any moment that I haven’t been working I have been soaking up every bit of salt and sun. With my Slavic background, it is important that I wear sunscreen and I deeply regret my teenage days of slathering on baby oil and embracing melanoma. In my adult years, I have become much more responsible and fashionable with sunscreens, hats and protective clothing.

I have always hated sunscreen since I was a kid. I loathed the way it smelled, the white sheen it created on my skin, and mostly how it made my face burn and tingle. However in my opinion, the only thing worse than a sunburn is a hangover since both these ailments are inflicted on oneself by overindulgence of good times.

So I struggled with sunscreen brands, and my college education lead to the discovery that this burning feeling on my face was not uncommon. The culprit was oxybenzone, an endocrine disruptor and common allergen. In addition to it affecting hormone production, according to a study by the University of Central Florida, it is effecting our coral reefs. It’s estimated 14K tons of sunscreen is leached into coral reef systems annually.

To understand this, I’ll talk a little bit about the anatomy of a coral. First, a coral is a colony of tiny animals known as coral polyps. These critters are virtually colorless, but when they live in a colony they host colored photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. So corals are not plants, but tiny animals in a happy commune with plants to give them their bright beautiful colors, and serving as a habitat for many marine critters, fish and sea turtles.

Oxybenzone disrupts the DNA coral larvae, haulting their reproductive cycle, and also disrupts the DNA of adult coral colonies. It is suspected to extract nutrients from coral colonies, contributing to what is known as coral bleaching. This is because the oxybenzone harms the zooxanthellae, leaving corals with a loss of their bright hues.

Now here is a point where I throw some brands under the bus, or under the boat I should say. Watch out for the propeller!

I rounded up all of the sunscreens my boyfriend and I accumulated over the past year and skimmed their ingredients, and that big bad cyclohexane appeared to be in all major brands. Banana Boat, Australian Gold, Neutrogena, Hawaiian Tropic in fact ALL contain oxybenzone in addition to some other carcinogenic compounds.

With my activities including snorkeling, SUP and surfing on or in proximity to coral reefs. If I didn’t stop using bad block for preventing my own cancer, I sure would stop using to save corals. My priorities are oddly altruistic, but I am an ocean advocate!

I was making my own sunscreen using my former Chemistry teacher skills, since coconut oil has natural SPF and when combined with zinc oxide powder and shea butter, makes a water resistant sunblock. However, my work schedule has interfered with my homesteading time.

I started a quest for an ocean friendly sunscreen with a lovely aroma, and was elated to find Alba Botanica. I purchased their SPF 30 Hawaiian Sunscreen for myself, then their SPF 50 Emollient Fragrance Free spray for my boyfriend’s golf bag. The Hawaiian Sunscreen smelt like pineapples and good times, absorbs quickly and provided excellent protection.


I test ran the Emollient Spray, and I am wary of aerosol sunscreens after reading articles about people becoming horrifically burned using them. However, I wore this before paddling about two hours and did not have a trace of a burn.

So slather on the goodness my friends! And as always, live global, stay local!


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