Layers of protection: how Magwai helps saves the corals

Words by

Multimedia Reporter

Sunscreen. It’s a staple in any beach-goer kit, outdoor athlete’s go bag, or self-respecting skin care enthusiast’s regiment. And for good reason: it’s a necessity for protection against harmful rays, especially from hours of exposure to the sun.

However, unbeknownst to most of us slathering on sunscreen by the shore, the marine life that we appreciate during these beach trips suffer at the cost of our protection. Most commercially-available sunscreens contain harmful compounds like oxybenzone which can bleach, deform, and even kill coral. This is even more alarming considering that the Philippines sits within the Coral Triangle, a reef system that occupies only 1.5% of the world’s ocean area and yet represents 30% of its coral reefs.

So is there a way to shield ourselves from the sun while shielding our corals from further damage? Local startup Magwai offers a solution.

Taking the plunge

Four years ago, friends and frequent beachgoers Maffy Tamayo and Czar Carbonel stumbled upon an article discussing the negative impact of sunscreen on corals. “When we found out, it was very shocking for both of us to find out that the sunscreen brand that we had been using contributes to that damage. And we’d been… conscious about making more sustainable choices,” said Tamayo.

So when they found that there weren’t any reef-safe alternatives available here in the Philippines, they were inspired to make their own solution. And thus, Magwai was born.

Named after Magwayen, a sea goddess in Visayan folklore, the locally-made sunscreen is rated at SPF 50+ (an effective and well-balanced value) claiming protection against both UVA and UVB. But what keeps it true to its thrust is that it’s made of natural ingredients and uses alternative components to absorb harmful rays.

“The active ingredients that we’re using are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide,” said Tamayo. “So what makes us different is that we have none of those toxic ingredients, but at the same time is still very effective in terms of providing protection from sun damage.”

Changing tides

As more consumers raise expectations on personal care products and become open to changing consumption habits for the benefit of the environment, so do the opportunities for startups operating in the same industry that share the same vision. But in order to raise awareness on specific issues such as coral reef damage, both the private and public sectors must collaborate in creating educational efforts and promoting environmentally-friendly alternatives.  

Tamayo cites government agencies like the Department of Tourism which have been campaigning for sustainable tourism. Outside the country, tourist spots like Hawaii and Palau are taking legislative measures to ban the use of chemical sunscreen among visitors. As for Magwai, they partner with businesses like retailer SESOU which share the same mission of helping the environment, and run efforts like collecting used Magwai tubes in-store for recycling.

“It goes beyond trying to save corals because there are so many other problems that contribute to the negative impact to the ocean, not just corals. There’s climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution… There are so many other bigger problems that need to be addressed.”

With products in the pipeline and a goal to hit more shelves across the Philippines, Tamayo hopes that Magwai will be able to cast a wider net of influence in the industry not just in protecting coral reefs but also the environment overall.