Does your sunscreen damage coral reefs?

Does your sunscreen damage coral reefs?


(CNN) – It's the middle of summer, and countless families use the free time and warm weather to go on vacation. Hawaii is a popular destination, with nearly 800,000 visitors in May, according to government tourism data.

The state recently banned two elements of sunscreen that researchers found harmful to coral reefs. Here's what that means to you.

Which sun protection ingredients are prohibited?

As of January 1, 2021, Hawaii will prohibit the sale, supply or distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate without the prescription of an approved healthcare facility. The chemicals could also be referred to as benzophenone-3 or octylmethoxycinnamate.

Why is Hawaii banning oxybenzone and octinoxate from sun creams?

The two ingredients protect the skin from UV rays, but researchers have found that they also cause bleaching, malformations, DNA damage and, ultimately, the death of corals when sunscreen washes off beach waters or enters sewage treatment plants and dumps in bodies of water. Coral reefs are vital members of marine ecosystems, protecting beaches from erosion and supporting biodiversity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Are these ingredients dangerous to humans?

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are on the list of approved sunscreen ingredients in the US Food and Drug Administration. The official position of the American Academy of Dermatology Association states that "It is alleged that sunscreens currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are toxic to the environment or pose a threat to human health." For a list of FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients, visit the agency's website.

The advocacy organization of the Environmental Working Group claims that the banned ingredients can cause hormonal imbalances and allergic skin reactions.

According to Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, the two chemicals were also found in fish, sea turtle eggs, algae, dolphins, oysters, crabs, bivalves, and even human and dolphin breast milk, and Hawaii's lead author of the study urged to ban the ingredients.

Could sunscreens harm the environment even when I'm far from Hawaii?

It's more of a local problem, according to a representative of the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources. Although government officials would encourage anyone to use "reef-proof" sunscreen as much as possible, the chances of Montana's water from, say, harming the reefs in Hawaii are pretty slim.

Although Florida does not ban sunscreen ingredients, the US Department of Environment's Coral Reef Conservation Program urges divers to avoid using oxybenzone sunscreens to protect the Florida Reef Tract.

But Downs says that oxybenzone and octinoxate have been detected in waters around the world, including Barrow, Alaska. Oxybenzone has a half-life of 2.4 years in seawater so that a sewage flag or water from a popular swimming area can flow downstream and flow into coastal waters.

How else could I protect myself from the sun?

You can use sunscreen with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which form a physical barrier between your skin and the sun and reflect their rays.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months daily wear a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on exposed body parts. Doctors also recommend that you stay outdoors in the shade and wear proper clothing, hats and sunglasses.

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