With reef-safe sunscreen becoming an increasingly hot topic, we caught up with Jim Standing – Director at Fourth Element – to find out how they are helping divers protect themselves from the sun while avoiding harmful chemical sunscreens.
Where did the idea come from for Fourth Element's new SPF50 rashguards?
We have been making our Hydroskin rashguards pretty much since fourth element began. Our current range incorporates recycled materials with a line of looser styles set to launch in the near future.
What first gave you the idea of using recycled materials in your products?
A friend, Roz Lunn who runs the Underwater Marketing Company, called me up after attending a dive conference where she had learned about Ghost Fishing - the organisation which coordinates much of the world’s retrieval of ghost fishing nets, lost or abandoned by fishermen that continue to catch and kill marine life. It was a great story but what was even more fascinating to us was that the waste could be repurposed and was being re-cycled into nylon yarn that could be used to make fabrics.
This was a bit of a watershed moment for us - what if we could make something for divers, from a raw material sourced by divers in the process of cleaning up the ocean?
OceanPositive Swimwear was the first product line to come from this conversation. Using the ECONYL® yarn, we created swimwear which was 78% recycled material and then began innovating our packaging. It was at this point where the paradigm shift in the business really took place and we began to look at our activity holistically and change as much as we could.
Did using recycled materials create many challenges?
Yes - firstly, there’s the cost. It is more expensive than product made from scratch but, most importantly, the perception of recycled products is that they are somehow inferior in quality. Convincing consumers otherwise was challenging at times. Once people got their hands on the products it was easier, as people could feel the quality of the products, but the concept of recycled fishing nets as swimwear was something many people struggled with.
How did you ensure the recycled materials in this rashguard offered SPF50 protection?
Our fabrics are tested for UV protection, measuring the attenuation of the harmful rays passing through the material. An SPF of 50 means less than 1/50th or 2% of the UV passes through the fabric so this gives the wearer a good idea of the level of protection provided by the garment.
Reef safe sunscreen is a big topic right now - what else is Fourth Element doing to help people reduce their use of chemical sunscreen?
We advocate for sensible use of chemical sunscreens - certainly firstly, choose a sunscreen that is certified and tested as “Reef Safe”. Using sunscreen prevents skin damage and potentially life-threatening conditions but we can minimise the impact of sunscreen on the oceans by adopting simple practices. Putting sunscreen on early to allow it to be absorbed into the skin means less will come off in the sea. Crucially, slapping extra sunscreen on just before snorkelling, for example, is a guaranteed way to leave a slick of chemicals on the surface of the water. Simply putting a rash guard on does exactly the same job as the additional sunscreen and is easier - you don’t have to find someone to make sure your back is covered!
How can we encourage people to change their behaviours in the sun? For example, encouraging them to use rashguards rather than sunscreen
Simply, awareness is the key. What we don’t see, we don’t know about - all too often in photos, coral is shown in a healthy state and little attention is given to the vast areas of reef which have been compromised by bleaching. Also, there’s more than one cause of coral damage - rising sea temperatures, pollution from river outflows etc. that it is hard to assign direct cause and effect.
So, I think that the best way is to continue the education about the long-term damage caused by UV and the importance of covering up. The end result could very easily be a reduction in sunscreen as a result.
As people understand the risks of chemical sunscreen, do you think we'll see travellers become more responsible in the sun?
Definitely. Publicity surrounding global climate change, sea temperatures etc has never been more pervasive. Campaigns to save the reef are gathering momentum and gaining traction in the mind of the consumers.
We have a responsibility as divers to share what we have seen - to share stories of the changes. The team at the Ocean Agency and the Seaview Survey have documented these changes in high definition imagery and with the production of the movie Chasing Coral. All this should see people making more environmentally and reef conscious choices.
What's next from Fourth Element - can you share any spoilers of what's in the pipeline?
Well, we’re working on a partnership with a reef-safe sunscreen brand - more to come on this – but, in other areas, we are preparing to launch our newest wetsuit; it’s made from plants rather than petrochemical or inorganic raw materials, lined with recycled fabrics and manufactured with water based glues and inks. It's a huge step in the right direction for us. We have more recycled products in the pipeline too including further developments of our thermocline range which is made with the same recycled nylon yarn as our swimwear. Ultimately, we intend to innovate more products with recycled and sustainable materials to become more OceanPositive.