The last 50 years there has been an increased consumer awareness of the use of sunscreen during exposure to minimise the damage induced to the skin by ultraviolet rays. Whereas in the 1970s there was a quest for the famous ‘tan’ at all costs and without protection, often resulting in the development of erythema, today, thanks also to expanded information, consumers are more aware of the use of sun protection, and cosmetic companies offer a wide range of products on the market.
The functional core of sunscreen cosmetics is evidently the filter or, more often, the combination of filters present. In the past, there were almost exclusively creams on the market that were so full-bodied that they were difficult to apply (because the filters are often technically very complex ingredients), but today, the improved textures of cosmetics have contributed to a marked improvement in the use of such products and their popularity among consumers.
This has inevitably led to a huge increase in the release of substances into the environment, because obviously through bathing part of the sunscreen is removed (there is no 100% water resistance of a sunscreen).
A novel requirement has therefore arisen for cosmetic companies involved in the design and production of sunscreens: that of offering the market cosmetics that are effective, but with a reduced environmental impact. Particularly in countries with coral reefs, where progressive coral bleaching is being observed due to some of the frequently used sunscreens in cosmetics.
Reef-friendly sunscreens and the protection of coral reefs
Pioneers in this context is Hawaii, where the Hawaii Reef Beel, also known as the Hawaii Treaty, came into force in 2021, which banned two sun filters, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, but other filters are under scrutiny, so it is possible that further restrictions will be envisaged in the future. It is expected that other countries, where the marine ecosystem is at risk, and where damage to corals and fish is being observed, may soon follow the Hawaiian way. The aim is to protect not only corals but also certain marine species for which it appears that some filters may act as endocrine disruptors
The characteristics of ocean-friendly sunscreens
The fact is that conventional sunscreens can contribute to damaging the environment in several ways. In addition to the specific action of some filters on corals, which often leads to the bleaching of these marine species, some filters are very persistent in the environment, damaging over time not only corals (the first species they encounter on the seabed), but also other elements of the marine ecosystem. Size is also important: sunscreens that act with a physical mechanism, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are to be avoided in nano form. It is also important to know the degradation mechanism of a filter, because it could be broken down by the bacterial species in the sea into substances even more harmful than the original ones.
Microplastic-free sunscreens: View from the inside
In addition to the selection of sunscreens to be used in formulation research and development, a cosmetics company can take further aspects into account. The elimination of microplastics is an important part of not impacting the marine habitat, whereby an analysis of the biodegradability of formulation ingredients is also of considerable benefit.
Cosmoderma is committed, as a company operating in cosmetics production, to constantly taking into account the environment, which is expressed in numerous activities. First and foremost, the elimination of the use of microplastics in production, then the research and use of recyclable packaging and, last but not least, the selection of as many ingredients as possible from controlled supply chains. Using biodegradable emollient vegetable oils instead of synthetic oils with a longer persistence time in the environment is certainly a significant step in the search for a sunscreen that is effective yet respectful of the marine environment, most importantly when combined with the complete absence of micro-plastics and biodegradable packaging.