Sunscreen In The News!



Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was recently photographed surfing in Hawaii with his face full of sunscreen. Instantly, photos of his surf look captured the attention on various social media platforms. People wondered why he has substantial amount of sunscreen on his face, with certain publications even poking fun at his attitude. What people don't know is that his approach was not only healthy but also environmentally friendly! Here is why!!

Mr. Zuckerberg was wearing a sunscreen made of zinc oxide, a physical ultraviolet (UV) rays blocker- and that choice is not arbitrary. In fact, chemical sunscreens, which are made of molecules like oxybenzone and octinoxate, are banned in Hawaii due to their harmful effects on aquatic environment.



"Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that these chemical filters are toxic to coral reefs and to several other marine organisms. Chemical sunscreens are found in the fish we eat and may be affecting our own health", explains Dr. Litvinov, a Director in Dermatology Research at McGill University.

Every year, ~14,000 tons of sunscreen are released into our oceans and affect coral reef habitats! In contrast, physical sunscreens are made of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and do not adversely affect marine species or coral reefs. Therefore, the use of physical rather than chemical sunscreens is encouraged, especially in Hawaii, a destination known for its multiple beaches and its extremely diverse marine ecosystem. Thus, by using a zinc oxide-based sunscreen (which invariably leaves a white cast), Mark Zuckerberg was actually protecting the marine life and coral reefs in Hawaii!

“Did you know that chemical sunscreens are actually banned in Hawaii?” highlights Dr. Netchiporouk, a certified dermatologist at McGill University and a senior author on a recently published study. Learn More

"Moreover, he also followed the recommendation to apply a generous amount of sunscreen especially while practicing water sports and outdoor activities. In fact, sunscreen washes off our skin when we swim and, unfortunately, if not enough sunscreen is applied, we lose its protective effect. Thus, it is important to be covered with a sufficient generous amount of sunscreen and to repeat application frequently, at least every 2 hours, according to American and Canadian Dermatologists' recommendation" , says Dr. Litvinov.

In addition, you will notice that he was wearing clothes covering his entire chest, arms and back, which is an important sun protective measure that is often neglected. "These areas of the body are some of the most commonly affected by melanoma and other skin cancer, especially in men who tend to expose their upper body when playing water sports", explains Dr. Litvinov. Clothes provides an extra layer of security to enjoy outdoor activities without worrying about skin damage. "The clothes that offer the best UV protection are those with darker colours, thick fabrics like denim and no stretch", suggests Dr. Litvinov. Unlike sunscreen, your clothing will not “wash off” while swimming!


Dermatologists use a system to classify skin type corresponding to the quantity of pigment in the skin and the skin's reaction to sun exposure. This is called the Fitzpatrick scale. It ranges from skin type 1 (fair skin -more at risk) to skin type 6 (dark skin – the least risk). "People with red hair, light eyes and fair complexion, just like Mark Zuckerberg, are skin type 1, most at risk for sunburns and, in the long-term, melanoma and other skin cancers. For patients with this skin type, we are rigorous in our recommendations: using sunscreen, limiting skin exposure and seeking shade when outside, wearing sun protective clothes, a hat and sunglasses and having annual skin examination with a doctor", says Dr. Denis Sasseville, a Professor of Dermatology at McGill University.

“Moreover, individuals with red hair have a mutation in a gene called MC1R, which codes for the melanocortin-1 receptor. As a result, the pigment found in redhair individuals is not a typical eumelanin like in the rest of the population, but a pheomelanin. Pheomelanin makes the hair look red or “ginger” and does not protect cells from the sun like regular eumelanin does. As a result, individuals like Mark Zuckerberg have to be extra vigilant with sun exposure due to their exceptionally high risk of developing a melanoma”, explains Dr. Sasseville.

Ultimately, this issue is not about Mark Zuckerberg, a world-renowned billionaire and founder of Facebook. “I am much more concerned about the next person who will use sunscreen in Hawaii. I want them to use a physical blocker and apply a generous amount without the fear of being ridiculed for their appropriate behaviour”, highlights Dr. Litvinov. Chemical sunscreens, the sunscreens that do not leave residue, are prohibited in Hawaii because of their toxicity for coral reefs and marine life and going without a sunscreen would be irresponsible for anyone, especially if they are fair skin or have red hair. “We should encourage this behaviour so that others follow it, not ridicule people for doing the right thing,” stresses Dr. Litvinov

Certainly, while the photo of Mark Zuckerberg surfing may have seemed humorous at first, it clearly illustrates a very exhaustive combination of sun protection measures that should be taken to save our skin from detrimental sun damage. Next time you go to the beach, please use sunscreen generously and wear sun protective clothing!

  1. Tips on usins sunscreen from the Canadian Cancer Society: Available at Click Here
  2. Video: Proper application of sunscreen: Available at Click Here
  3. Canadian Association of Dermatology: Sunscreen FAQ. Available at Click Here
  1. Ouchene L, Litvinov IV, Netchiporouk E. Hawaii and Other Jurisdictions Ban Oxybenzone or Octinoxate Sunscreens Based on the Confirmed Adverse Environmental Effects of Sunscreen Ingredients on Aquatic Environments. Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery. 2019 Nov;23(6):648-9.
  2. Li H, Colantonio S, Dawson A, Lin X, Beecker J. Sunscreen application, safety, and sun protection: the evidence. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2019 Jul;23(4):357-69.
  3. Schneider SL, Lim HW. Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019; 80(1): 266-271
  4. Mitchelmore CL, et al. Occurrence and distribution of UV-filters and other anthropogenic contaminants in coastal surface water, sediment, and coral tissue from Hawaii. Sci. Total Environ. 2019;670:398-410
  5. McCoshum SM, Schlarb AM, Baum KA. Direct and indirect effects of sunscreen exposure for reef biota. Hydrobiologia. 2016;776(1):139-146.
  6. Schneider SL, Henry WL. A review of inorganic UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 2018

Protect yourself from the Sun


Protect yourself from the Sun


Protect yourself from the Sun