Biodegradable Sunscreen

You may be surprised when booking your trip with the Big Blue Collective that we ask you to use 100% biodegradable sunscreen. If you’re a sun-worshipper at heart, we may have shocked you by recommending sunscreen at all! Even if it’s a daily part of your beauty and health routine, however, you may not even be aware that such a thing as biodegradable sunscreen even exists. We’re here today to explain exactly why a 100% biodegradable sunscreen is the way of the future, and how you can help yourself- and save the planet- by using one.

So, what is biodegradable sunscreen?

It may surprise you, but not all sunscreens are created equally. For many years, the ‘top of the range’ sunscreens were held to be those with chemical filters such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. These at first seemed to be a blessing, as they allowed for a smooth, clear and texturally-friendly sunscreen that doesn’t suffer from the ‘whitecast’ notorious to physical sunscreens.

Two-types of Sunscreen

These two divisions- chemical sunscreen, where the filters absorb the harmful UV rays, and physical, where a layer is created that scatters the rays away from the skin- remain our two choices today. You’ll often find brands which combine a little of both, striving for an aesthetically pleasing look and skin-feel while giving top-notch protection too. Yet there’s a hidden layer to these products, and that’s their biodegradability. It often seems unintuitive, as we don’t usually think of the term in the context of our personal body products, but not all of the products we use on our skin are actually biodegradable. 

To be biodegradable, the substance has to be able to be decomposed by bacteria (or other members of the ecosystem) in a non-harmful, life-sustaining manner. If it can be broken down like this, then there’s very little environmental impact taking place. The food chain operates as normal, with no disruptions. 

Without biodegradability, the substances we make simply linger on earth as pollutants, disrupting life (like in the sea, where profound effects on marine life, coral reefs and other animals and plant life occur).

Not all sunscreen is biodegradable

Right now, you may be thinking ‘but I wash my sunscreen off, how can biodegradability matter?” It does seem strange, doesn’t it? Yet, just like the microplastic beads in some cosmetics are becoming a rising problem, so are many of the older chemical filters in our sunscreen. Although you’re able to physically remove them from your skin with ease, they wash into the water supply, where they do not break down further and instead pollute the water. As little as a few millilitres of the wrong chemical can contaminate vast amounts of water, meaning even the smallest changes can have a big effect.

US Sunscreens

This problem is highly exacerbated in the US. Whereas Asian and some European nations have embraced newer, more refined chemical filters for their sunscreens that have less (or even no) environmental impact, the FDA has been slow to react in approving newer, more cosmetically pleasing and effective filters that also happen to be better for the environment too. That said, the jury remains out on whether chemical sunscreens will ever have the biodegradability and earth-saving features of their physical cousins.

Non-Biodegradable wash-off

Having these non-biodegradable ingredients wash off your skin near the reefs leaves the reef vulnerable to viruses through chemical contamination. Up to 14 tonnes of sunscreen chemicals make their way into the ocean every year! So while your own modest sunscreen activities may seem small, in the bigger picture the impact on marine life is huge. This coral virus causes the reef to expel critical algae. Not only does this algae give them the vibrant colours we love so much, but it also enables them to thrive and feed. With this damage to the algae, coral begins to bleach and die. This has a knock-on effect on everything in the food chain, and can be devastating to sea life everywhere. Coupled with increasing climate change worries, we have a marine disaster on our hands.

How do I do my part for reefs and choose a biodegradable sunscreen?

Most biodegradable sunscreens will label themselves as such. However, it’s important to always know exactly what to look for in your product, as many firms use ‘reef-safe’ as a marketing tactic while still producing unsafe products. You can always ask the Big Blue Collective for advice on reef-friendly brands too. We, in fact, were pioneers of biodegradable sunscreens on the Turks and Caicos Islands back in the 2010/2011 season!

Active Ingredients

However, it’s always good to know what you’re looking for. In this case, you want a purely physical sunscreen. Look for the active ingredients Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, and make sure there are no chemical filters included in the mix too. Make sure all products are free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens and the preservative butylparaben. These chemicals all have severe negative impacts on marine life. Worryingly, there are also some signs that these same ingredients could even be having harmful effects on our bodies too, with everything from excess inflammation to hormone disruptions potentially on the table. 

Will biodegradable sunscreen protect my skin as effectively?

The answer is a resounding YES! Physical sunscreens are an excellent way to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Because they physically deflect the sun’s rays, nothing absorbs into your skin, either, helping to keep you healthier and often giving greater product versatility to those with sensitive skins. If you’re worried about ‘whitecast’ from the sunscreen, don’t be! Firstly, you’re on holiday- so no need to worry. Secondly, many modern physical sunscreen brands harness the best of newer filter technology to ensure that pesky ‘whitecast’ doesn’t occur.

Be part of the change we need! Support Big Blue Collective, and help keep the Turks and Caicos Islands the beautiful paradise you see today. By making the switch to a reef-friendly, biodegradable sunscreen today, you can help make the future a better place- and save your skin from the sun, too.