Sustainability is less of a buzzword in 2021 and more of a lifestyle. Gen Z have grown up with climate change at the forefront of their minds –rising sea levels, bleached coral reefs and viral videos of turtles and whales being rescued from the trappings of plastic and fishing lines have been hallmarks of a modern childhood and adolescent experience.
So, it is no surprise the latest iteration of sustainability is focused on the ocean. “A step up from the green beauty trend: blue beauty has a very focused agenda on what it wants to help and how brands can work towards achieving the end goals, such as limiting our plastic wastage, making recycling easier and protecting our oceans from chemicals found in our beauty products, such as sunscreens,” explains Co-founder of People4Ocean Sun Care, Reef Restoration Expert and Sustainability Director, Louise Naïma Laing.
But, creating ocean friendly cosmetic products is no mean feat, especially sun care.
As Laing explains, traditional sun care formulas “contaminate rivers, lakes and oceans, and interact in insidious ways with aquatic organisms, and particularly coral reefs, damaging DNA and causing malformations [or worse]. With these ingredients present in 97% of sunscreens on the market, this was bad news for coral reefs already threatened by climate change, pollution, predator invasions and overfishing,” she says.
After moving back to Australia from working in the Seychelles as a marine scientist, and witnessing the wiping out of an entire reef with coral bleaching, Laing and her husband decided to act urgently, the result of which was the creation of People4Ocean Sun Care. “[The brand was created] with a simple intention: to end sunscreen pollution in our oceans and within our bodies. In Australia, a country where rates of skin cancer and coral bleaching are at record heights, we took the challenge of addressing skin and oceanic wellness hand-in-hand,” she says.
When it comes to what cosmetic components are typically harmful, Laing explains; most sunscreens contain 20 or more chemical compounds that are absorbed by the skin or washing off into the environment (most often the ocean). “I really felt the blue beauty movement grow when Hawaii was the first US state to announce the total ban of sunscreens containing coral-harming chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. It created such a wave of awareness on the toxic nature of sunscreens and cosmetics and how these can impact our skin, but also our backyards,” says Laing. “It also shook-up the sunscreen industry to its core…manufacturers worldwide are having to adapt to the growing trend, as people are educating themselves about ingredients and their individual footprint as consumers.”
In saying that, beware ‘blue washing’. The shift of the sunscreen industry, is sometimes more in marketing than anything else. To avoid falling into the trap, Laing recommends not basing your purchasing decisions on marketing messages and instead getting familiar with your ingredient lists. “When it comes to sunscreens, ingredients never lie …manufacturers have to declare all ingredients on the label –this is a good way to assess whether a sunscreen is good for your skin and gentle on the Planet.” Brands are often also quick to claim the title ‘reef-safe’, in a similar way to products being labelled ‘clean’, with little to no backing or certification. “We often consider that sunscreen brands call their products reef-safe, just by excluding oxybenzone and octinoxate,” despite still containing many other harmful chemical filters.
“It is virtually impossible to determine the impacts of sunscreen on ecosystems so complex and diverse as coral reefs…so, we prefer to use the terms ‘reef-friendly’ or ‘reef-conscious’, as it is the [up to date] science that allows us to say whether an ingredient is toxic or not…as you know, science always changes.”
Despite battling ingredient standards (which are insanely strict in Australia, for good reason), packaging limitations and changing consumer perceptions when it comes to sunscreen, People4Ocean Sun Care leaves out all known environmental pollutants found in mainstream cosmetics. In working with spa brand LaGaia Unedited, the brand formulates sunscreens for water resistance, to limit wash off, plus uses cosmetic-grade Australian zinc oxide as the single active ingredient, providing broad-spectrum protection that doesn’t degrade in sunlight, is safe for sensitive skin and is non damaging to reefs.
However, while making the switch to reef-safe sunscreen is a good first step, it’s a very small part of the problem.
“Climate change is undeniably the biggest threat to our oceans. From polar regions to kelp forests and coral reefs, the rise in atmospheric CO2 is increasing sea surface temperatures, affecting entire ecosystems and disrupting ocean chemistry,” Laing says. “Governments are industries are often given full responsibility to mitigate climate change, but we also have a role to play…Simple lifestyle changes such as buying locally made goods, eating locally grown whole foods, reducing plane travel and cutting intake of meat and dairy are all impactful ways to reduce global greenhouse emissions.”
Additionally, plastic pollution and overfishing, Laing numbers as the second and third biggest threats. According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish by 2050. As to how we can help? Refusing to use single use plastics is the most effective. Plus, downloading apps such as Seafood Watch in the US and Goodfish in Australia, can help you steer clear of endangered species (even in restaurants), and select sustainable seafood choices.
In committing to blue beauty on a broader scale, People4Ocean is much more than a sun care brand. From donating a percentage of all sales to reef conservation initiatives, to offering carbon neutral shipping and compostable mailers to working to ensure the entire range (soon!) is encased in a bioplastic tube (100% recyclable, made of low-carbon sugar-cane resin, with solar energy). Laing and her husband also continue to provide assistance to conservation projects and non-profits.
So, while it seems overwhelming, People4Ocean is providing a simple place to start, and what better product than a sunscreen…because as we know, SPF is non-negotiable ?.
Shop People4Ocean here.