Sunlight, SPF Use And The Effect On The Environment

Sunlight, SPF Use And The Effect On The Environment


There are many people that would agree with the age-old adage of saying “if loving this is wrong, I don’t want to be right,” when speaking about their habit of laying out for hours in the sun. From a biological perspective, it’s logical that people would crave this behaviour as the sun provides many proven health benefits summarized below, but in more detail in this Healthline article.


  • A natural mood booster, as sunlight can raise serotonin levels in the brain and help abate depression in those with a predisposition to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  • Exposure helps with sleep and the body’s circadian rhythms. Without enough time in the sun the body cannot produce the proper amount of melatonin at night.
  • Vitamin D is mostly absorbed through sun exposure, although it can be supplemented with foods or capsules. This vitamin is crucial for calcium absorption which aids in keeping bones strong and for immune health.


Whether it’s currently winter or right in the middle of a summer heat wave, the sun and its effects are always there, even if it appears to be hiding behind clouds. In order to receive the above benefits, it should be noted that very little time is actually needed in the sun. According to this helpful page by the Cancer Council, when the UV rays are at a level 3 or above, just the few minutes walking to your car will provide you with the needed amount of vitamin D. Also, a cool or overcast day can have similar levels of UV radiation as a clear day and can sometimes be more intense due to the reflection off of clouds. 


However, without the proper precautions, the other side of this is that the skin is vulnerable to damage that could lead to sunburn, heat rash, skin cancer and premature aging. There are several ways to be protected; clothing, hats, limiting exposure time, avoiding the sun in peak hours and of course applying sunscreen every morning as part of a skincare routine.


Unfortunately, while a sunscreen may protect people well, the effects on the environment can be severe. A chemical found in thousands of products known as Oxybenzone or BP-3, is one of many ingredients that is proven to damage coral reefs and other marine life. The below infographic from the National Ocean Service has explanations on the damage, as well as other chemicals to be aware of that may be detrimental to the environment. The chemicals in sunscreen can leak into the environment not only by water activities such as surfing, swimming or snorkelling in the ocean, but when it is washed off in the shower and goes into the water drainage system. 


Furthermore, chemical sunscreens can pose health risks to people since they are being absorbed into the skin, as well as surface irritation to individuals with certain skin allergies or sensitivities. Another thing to note is that not all mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens like zinc oxide are created equal and when possible, non-nano zinc oxide is considered the safest for reefs and people. The Environmental Working Group has a comprehensive guide to sunscreens to further your education, as well as a rating system they have created. They discuss studies that have shown how nanoparticles can be inhaled into the lungs and they also recommended not using sunscreens in powder or spray format, as this increases the chance of inhaling the particles.


Places like Hawaii, Florida, and the country of Palau have taken action to ban the sale of sunscreens that damage ocean life. Although this progress is great to see, it is still up to us to make sure we are buying and using sunscreen that is safe four ourselves and marine life, until it is a regulation throughout the industry.

6 Sunscreen Brands that check all the boxes

They are great for sensitive skin, with few ingredients and no added fragrance. Their ingredients are 100% certified natural, Australian made and owned, and all fit the bill of being non nano as well.



Sunbutter – SPF 50 Reef Safe Sunscreen

WinkiZinc – SPF 30 Tinted Base

SurfMud – SPF 30, 4 hrs Water Resistant Sunscreen


Non-plastic free:

Little Urchin – SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen

Seagull Milk – SPF50 Non-slip Sunscreen


“When it comes to choosing the right sunscreen, it’s all about choosing people-friendly, planet-friendly goodness.”

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About the Author

Marissa is a One Green Dream blog writer, multi-disciplinary creative working in interiors, photography and branding. Her passion lies in educating herself and others through writing about mindful health and skincare, the environment and travel.

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