Why Key West Cares What's In Your Sunscreen

They City of Key West met on January 15, 2019 to discuss a ban on the use of sunscreens that contain the chemicals Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, two materials known to have detrimental effects on the reef ecosystem and has been found to be an endocrine disrupter. I had the chance to sit down with Mike Malterre of Stream 2 Sea, a mineral-based sunscreen company, to find out why this matters so much, and what his company is doing to change it.

Photo Credit: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Photo Credit: Stream2Sea

Photo Credit: Stream2Sea

Currently Hawaii is the only other State in the US which has banned these chemicals, but so far, none in the continental US have done so. If the ban passes, Key West will be the first, and is likely to set off a series of similar bans in other coastal towns, as well as in other states.

Read on for the show notes and resources at the bottom of the page.

Whether you squirt it , Spray it , Or Pump it

One thing is certain, if youre in Key West, you’re outside and enjoying life on the water.

 But if you’re the unlucky coral larvae recently spawned into the open ocean, awaiting your chance to cling to a passing surface so you can begin your slow steady journey to growing into a rocky habitat for fish and sea life to call home, those sounds might sound like something out of a horror film. 

 Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the barrier reef by private boat, by charter, and by catamaran, to take in the sights beneath the surface, totally unaware of the unintentional mess they leave behind. 

Similarly, thousands of local residents enjoy poolside chats with friends, work outside, run errands, or stop off at the beach on a lazy afternoon, all theoretically while protecting themselves from the sun. 

Portrait of white woman doing her daily skincare routine

 While most people have a great respect for the underwater world and its residents, many do not realize what happens when they jump in off the boat, or shower off after a hot day, what they are sending down the drains and into the oceans, is growing in consequence for both our environment and our own bodies.

This debate of safe sunscreen is one that I became familiar with probably about 7 or 8 years ago, when a friend came by my work to ask me if I was interested in buying some quote-unquote “reef friendly” sunscreen.  Now, hey, I like the environment as much as the next guy, but I’m also a marketer, so I know spin when I see it, and I brushed it off as just another way for the sunscreen companies to make money.  I think he gave me a sample, I may or may not have used it – I honestly cant remember – but other than that, I did not think about it much after that – save for getting admonition from a friend of mine who is a stringent label reader and suggested I not use spray sunscreen on my daughter. 

EME_coral_crosssection_label.jpg

 But other than that, it hasn’t ever really been a big issue for me.  Then recently, it came up as a topic of conversation in Key West, as the City Commission put forward a bill that would ban the sale of certain sunscreens. 

 When I found out that I had a contact through an old friend who was working with one of the alternative sunscreen companies – that is, the ones who don’t use chemicals in their products – I asked if he’d be willing to come over to the studio and talk about the topic and educate us on the differences between chemical and mineral based sunscreens. 

Stream2Sea_products.jpg

 We go into endocrinology, coral reproductive systems, cross-dressing fish, and even…get this…micropenises…yup…you heard me. Even if you don’t give two hoots about the level of octinoxate in a yellowtail fillet, if you want your junk to work right, you probably should care about this topic. 

 Now, I know what you’re thinking….oh great, another palm tree hugger….hear me out.  I know I have some friends who don’t agree, and some who do.  

 I’m not your usual crunchy type who gets all high and mighty about the plastic vessel you drink from or whether your shoes are biodegradable.  So this is NOT a topic I ever thought I’d be interested in learning about. 

 But I do think knowledge is power….just like I’m sure there were skeptics when they first told us asbestos caused cancer, or lead paint was toxic,

 I mean, right, there used to be ads for cigarettes showing a doctor’s favorite brand. 

Photo by julien boren

Photo by julien boren

 As research comes out and science gets better, I think it’s a good conversation to have, I think it’s good information to hear so that you can make smart decisions about what you put onto your body, how you protect your kids, and how we take care of our world around us. 

 My guest today was one such person who learned early on the direct effects a toxic substance can have.  He spent his young life in Hawaii surfing the Hanauma Bay area, and 20 years ago, his thyroid stopped working, and he was told that it was likely triggered by environmental toxiins.  He’s taken medication for it ever since.  It messes with his hormones, his temperature regulation, and his metabolism.  After retiring, he was pulled back into this as a passion, working for a company that he said “is the most ethical and clean that I have ever found”.  That company is Stream 2 Sea, and my guest is their Executive Vice President, Mike Malterre.  

 I hope you enjoy it.

 Resources:

  • https://stream2sea.com/

  • https://inchemistry.acs.org/content/inchemistry/en/atomic-news/suncreen-science.html

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxybenzone

  • https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/

  • https://sunscreensafe.com/

Locations in Key West Currently Selling Environmentally Safe Sunscreens:

  • Diver’s Direct

  • Finz Dive Center

  • Captain’s Corner

  • Southpoint Divers

  • Date and Thyme

  • Reef Relief

  • Key West Bait and Tackle

  • Key West Eco Tours

  • World Sailing Adventures

  • New Leaf Skincare

  • Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum

  • Eco-Discovery Center

  • Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park

Audio in this program used with permission of the City of Key West Government, including recordings of the City Commission Meeting that took place on Tuesday, January 15th, 2019.

While this episode was largely in support of the “safe sunscreen” side of the debate, I recognize that there are two sides to any story, and it’s important for all of us to do our homework and hear both sides. To watch the entire video from the meeting, go to http://keywestcity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=932. Use the index to click on Item 15 to jump to the Sunscreen Agenda Item.

Special thanks to Commissioners Davila, Hoover, Kaufman, Lopez, Wardlow, Weekley, and Mayor Johnston for bringing this important debate to light.