Your Sunscreen is Killing Fish

In her timeless Chicago Tribune column, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”, Mary Schmich advised us all to wear sunscreen. A lot has changed since she wrote that piece in 1997, yet her advice has stood the test of time. Wearing sunscreen is still the single most important tip for the future. I couldn’t agree more.

However, you gotta take the good with the bad. While wearing sunscreen is indeed solid advice, Schmish was silent regarding the type of sunscreen we should all be wearing. These journalists and their convoluted half-truths, let me tell ya…

As it turns out, certain ingredients in standard (and very common) brands of sunscreen are causing a lot of damage to marine life, which comes into contact with the sunscreen which we wear. There are some serious toxins in many sunscreen products, and this can also affect us.

Chemical-laden sunscreen has the potential to be so damaging, that some scientists are now claiming that with long-term use, it can be even more harmful to our bodies than the very sun from which we are trying to shield ourselves. It is one of those cruel ironies, I suppose, but there you have it.

Now, to be fair, science has been known to make mistakes. On the other hand, just glance at the back of any random sunscreen, and see the number of chemicals which are included in those formulas. Those can’t all be good for you, you know what I mean?

Letting your skin get a healthy amount of unblocked sun (for say 20–30 minutes) is vital and often very beneficial. It can save you from certain vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, it can help you feel good, and last but not least, it is a lot of fun to grab some sun rays. After some time in the sun, though, you need to either cover up or put some sunscreen on.

Here are a few harmful chemicals which you should look out for:

Parabens and Sulfates

These are found in tons of beauty and cosmetics products. They act primarily as preservatives, and have been linked — not conclusively, I should add, — to types of cancer and to hormonal imbalance.


This is an estrogen-like chemical, and it acts as a UV filter in sunscreen. In studies, it was shown to contribute to hormone disruption. There is also a higher risk of an allergic reaction (skin allergies).


Another very common SPF-sunscreen ingredient, which has been shown to protect from the sun on the one hand, but cause damage to the body on the other. This chemical harms humans and animals alike, and has been shown to produce free radicals and possibly contribute to premature aging.

Okay, so there is a chance you may be considering switching sunscreen brands. A wise move, but what brand do you switch to? Well, there is no perfect sunscreen. The best tips are these:

First, use a brand which has less chemicals. You won’t find one with no chemicals. They are, after all, the substances which block the unfriendly rays. But, you can find sunscreens with less chemicals, and that is a start.

Second, stay away from sunscreens which come in spray and powder form. Sometimes they can be more convenient, but the harmful chemicals which they contain are more easily inhaled, and that is just asking for trouble.

Third, get to know your body and your location’s sun. The product with the highest SPF is not necessarily the best sunscreen. There are other things you should factor in when deciding which brand to use. Some sunscreens contain aloe vera, which has wonderful effects on the skin, and can help it from being burned after exposure.

Fourth, allow your daily diet to act as a natural sunscreen booster. Eating foods high in antioxidents, such as goji berries, leafy greens, and dark chocolate can give your body a hand in combating the potentially-harmful effects of the sun. As the old adage goes: let thy food be thy medicine.

It has been a long winter, and summertime is comin’ ‘round the bend. So, do me a personal favor and take Mary’s advice: sing, dance, floss, stretch, respect your elders, and wear sunscreen. Go out there, get some sun, have some fun, but stay aware and healthy. Using the right kind of sunscreen can not only help you stay safe and sound, but can also help our marine friends as they splish and splash their way around the reef.

Whether it is UVA sunscreen, UVB sunblock, or a combination of the two — it is important that you look after yourself and your loved ones. Stay safe in the sun, and be smart about it. In the end, what you rub into your skin penetrates the bloodstream, and becomes a real part of you. Make sure you do it right.

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