As surfers, we all understand the importance of protecting our skin against that unrelenting fireball in the sky called the sun. Not only do you need to apply the right sunscreen to protect your skin, but also you need to, as a surfer, think about one that won't run in your eyes, that will last in the water for a whole surf session, and endure all the elements thrown at it.
After living in Taranaki, New Zealand, for the last 5 years (Taranaki being one of the regions where skin cancer has been proved to be extremely prevalent due to the very thin ozone layer) I had to find the best sun protection suitable for my needs, especially after noticing the effects of the sun on my poor 30 year old skin. A girl’s got to look after herself!
The other thing you get to realise quickly as a surfer is how closely related we all are to the ocean and its environment. This water surface we once thought too vast to be significantly altered by humans is now endangered. Globally, the effects of industrialization are threatening the oceans’ ability to continue sustaining the ecosystems we depend upon. What's fantastic is that people are more and more conscious about every little gesture they can bring into their lifestyle to give our planet another chance. Unfortunately, there are still too many things we do and use everyday which keep damaging our environment, which we're not all necessarily conscious about.
In fact, the researcher and ecotoxicologist Craig Downs has discovered that there's up to 14000 tons of suncream ending up in the ocean every year (which is a staggering amount), affecting coral reefs and their surrounding world.
So now what? We need to use suncream but it’s bad for the oceans? There are some solutions. What makes the sunscreen bad for you and for the ocean are the chemical blockers that it contains.
In fact, there are 2 major chemical blockers that most companies commonly use: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Actually, these two chemicals are so damaging for the ocean that Hawaii just passed a bill to start banning all sunscreens which contains these 2 toxic substances.
I recently had the chance to test a new eco-friendly product on the market called SETT. Created by surfer James Marshall, it was designed for surfers, but also for everyone else, including children and folks with sensitive skin, it is chemical free and dermatologically tested.
How does SETT work? SETT sun products use zinc oxide (in its non-nano form). Zinc oxide is a mineral blocker which doesn't use nano-particles (a particle used in other mineral blocker that's so little that it can penetrate into the skin and creates health issues). As such, zinc oxide only sits on top of the skin to reflect all the sun's rays off your skin as oppose to the chemical blocker oxybenzone which is absorbed into your skin to break down the suns rays, which means that the sun may still damage upper layers of your skin. Furthermore, by penetrating your skin, oxybenzone can also find its way into your bloodstream, which can cause hormone disruption in humans.
At what point can we trust SETT sunscreen though? Well, as James Marshall states, “Sun protection factor (SPF) products must undergo rigorous and comprehensive testing before they can be sold to consumers. Australia is known for having the most demanding requirements on the effectiveness of sun protection, and the EU has the most demanding requirements on other ingredients that may harm human health (preservatives, emulsifiers etc).
SETT is proud to meet the world’s toughest regulation across Australia and the EU, so provides you with products you can trust”.
While SPF levels measure protection from UVB rays, it doesn't take into consideration UVA rays, which we know can also cause cancer, and long term skin damage. It is then good to know that SETT's non-nano zinc blockers ensure broad spectrum cover from both UVB and UVA rays.
I had the pleasure to have an chat with founder James Marshall himself, he said something that really made sense to me:
“The skincare, and especially sunscreen, industry is incredibly highly regulated, and for good reason - sunscreen was ultimately invented to try to prevent skin cancer. I want to be able to sleep well at night knowing I am providing my customers with a high quality product that exceeds the world’s toughest regulatory standards, and ultimately do a great job of protecting them. My customers expect this, and I won’t settle for anything less either”.
What I find particularly awesome about James is not only does he want to be able to sleep well at night in regards of his customers' health, but he also created SETT so he could sleep well at night in regards of the environment. Being eco-conscious and having as minimal an impact on the environment as possible is the next thing! Here's a few reasons why:
The 2 chemical blockers that are found in most sunscreens on the market, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are hard to eliminate, they're polluting water, accelerating the coral reef bleach and slowing down the growth of young corals. They are also known as being an endocrine disruptor for humans and fish. According to researchers from National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), it's also damaging the DNA of adult corals which potentially changes their mutation frequency and could also kill them.
A study in 2015, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology also affirms that both chemicals found in most sunscreens on the market can also induce feminization in adult male fish and cause reproductive diseases and neurological behavioural changes in them. What we need to understand is that fish are more than seafood! Fish are wildlife first, and they are critical components of complex marine ecosystems and food webs!
According to ecotoxicologist Craig Downs, oxybenzone would also affect sea urchins and kill seaweed which are an important food source for sea turtles. Unfortunately, even in small doses, oxybenzone is super toxic: the same study found oxybenzone had a toxic effect at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – equivalent to one drop in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools. It's sad to say that since I came back from the summer in my homeland in Montreal, I noticed that most people don't feel as connected to the ocean and its environment as surfers are in general, which is kind of normal in a way.
Everyone needs to understand that even though you're far away from the ocean, you still have an impact on the environment, as all polluted water, from lakes to rivers, ends up in the ocean, as we all know! And if you think environmental health doesn't affect you directly, just remember that the oceans are closely linked to our health as well, providing half the oxygen we breathe, relaxation and enjoyment, jobs, and food to billions of people. And that's without talking about how closely related it is to climate change in general. In brief, we can all do a little bit more of an effort to make a difference on this planet and it can start with your sunscreen!
I‘ve had the opportunity to test SETT products a few times already, and what I particularly like about it is that not only do they have the sunscreen lotion, but they also make a zinc face stick and an SPF lipbalm which are both essential and easy to carry around when you go on a surf mission. How good is that? While every sunscreen runs in your eyes when surfing and sting the s**t out of them, this one stays in place! Again, how good is that?
However, with its thick and substantial texture, and because it has a zinc oxide base, it doesn’t really absorb into the skin and so you are left with a thin white layer on your face most of the time. This can take a bit of getting used to, but hey! you only need a little bit to cover a lot which is quite a good point in the end. So I'd say just embrace the ghost look for a bit in your day, that's just what zinc does... I mean when it gives you the stoke and frees your mind like it did to me, you’ll wonder why you still haven't got any SETT sun products!
If you'd like to take care of our oceans while taking care of your skin, SETT gives you the opportunity to make it happen for a cheaper price! Simply insert the code ‘Surf Bunker’ at checkout, and get 20% off your purchase!
If you'd like some more information about SETT, visit their website here.