What you need to know about Sunscreen and Bans
Hawaii Sunscreen Ban For Immediate Release: Friday, May 4, 2018
On Tuesday, the Hawaii state legislature passed a bill that would ban sunscreen products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals are found in many popular sunscreens sold in the U.S., and are linked to hormone disruption in people and the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death.
Oxybenzone was added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens assessed in EWG’s 2017 Guide to Sunscreens. It can cause allergic skin reactions and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is detected in the blood of more than 96 percent of Americans. It is even found in breast milk. A recent study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone levels had significantly lower total testosterone levels. Octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, but more research is needed on this chemical.
“This is a kick in the pants to both the sunscreen industry and the Food and Drug Administration to move to safer and more effective chemical filters for sunscreen,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “The Hawaii ban calls attention to the fact that the sunscreen market is flooded with products that use potentially harmful ingredients and provide poor UVA protection. After decades of inadequate safety testing of current ingredients such as oxybenzone, the FDA is looking for safety data before approving new chemicals, but the industry has not yet stepped up to the plate. Now consumers are forcing change.”
If the Hawaii bill becomes law, the state’s ban on these sunscreen ingredients would go in effect in 2021. This gives sunscreen manufacturers and the FDA time to accelerate the much-needed review of safer, more effective chemicals and bring new products to market. EWG has supported more effective sunscreens and the safety testing of ingredients for more than a decade.
Most of the best-scoring beach and sport sunscreen products in the EWG Guide to Sunscreens are mineral-based, using zinc oxide to filter harmful radiation.
Between 2003 and 2010, sunscreen makers applied for FDA permission to use eight sun-filtering chemicals developed by European companies. The FDA’s failure to respond to these applications prompted Congress to pass the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014. This act requires the FDA to review new applications for sunscreen active ingredients within 300 days, and requires that companies still prove their new ingredients are both safe and effective. The FDA requires manufacturers to submit complete copies of their health studies, which in some cases may take years.
In the meantime, Americans are being shortchanged.
“The ban on oxybenzone may just be the beginning,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. “Change in the U.S. sunscreen market is long overdue. Melanoma rates continue to increase and Americans are demanding stronger regulations and safer, more effective ingredients that won’t harm health or endanger the environment.”
The U.S. sunscreens market relies on outdated technology. It is time to finally review and approve new chemical filters that won’t harm health or the environment.
Related: Mexico Sunscreen Ban
Sources: Environmental Working Group (EWG), National Geographic, Puerto Vallarta.
It’s always confusing to try to stay on top of the latest scientific findings and know how that affects our skin and use of sunscreens! So to simplify the most recent studies on the impact of sunscreens, we are including several important points that affect you and your family.
Every year between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off of tourists during their vacations. Many of these sunscreens contains chemicals that are harmful to the marine ecosystem, particularly coral reefs. All over Mexico, the use of biodegradable sunscreen is starting to be required for entry into the waters, scuba diving or snorkeling tours.
The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical non-biodegradable filters. These products typically include two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and homosalate.
It is important to avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate, because they are synthetic estrogens that penetrate the skin and can disrupt the hormone system. Additionally these two chemicals have been linked to the death of coral and bleaching of coral reefs.
Mineral sunscreens using zinc oxide are SAFE to use and protect your body from harmful UVA rays and UVB rays.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is biodegradable sunscreen?
A: Biodegradable sunblock is environmentally friendly sunscreen that lacks the harmful ingredients that are destroying the world’s coral reefs. These sunscreens are biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally in the environment, and eco-friendly, meaning that they minimize damage to the environment. We strongly encourage using only biodegradable sunscreen anytime you are going to be in the water.
Q: What kind of damage does sunscreen do to the marine ecosystem?
A: One of the most harmful things to the natural underwater environment of Mexico and elsewhere is the sunscreens worn by tourists. We don’t think of it, but when we swim in the water, these chemicals come off and settle on the coral reefs and other marine life, and in volume can almost act like an oil slick in the water, creating damage to the delicate ecosystems. The reefs are suffocated, and sunscreens are one of the biggest causes of bleaching to our reefs, and the death of much of the world’s coral. Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreens, has been shown to feminize fish.
Q: I’ve never heard of this before. Are you making this stuff up?
A: See the links below for the latest information.
- National Geographic: Swimmer’s Sunscreen Killing Off Corals
- Discover Magazine: The Biology of Sunscreens
- E-Turbo News: Tourist Sunscreen Killing Off Coral Reefs
- Indian Ocean Sea Turtles: Sunscreen May Be Killing Corals
Q: Why does coral get bleached? Is coral bleaching really a problem?
A: The ingredients in normal sunscreens promote viral infection in the coral, as well as covering it with oils and goo. Between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers every year on their vacations. As much as 25% of the world’s coral reefs are in imminent danger of collapse due to human pressures, and another 25% is in longer term danger.
Q: Where can I buy Biodegradable Sunscreen?
A: Some health food stores carry these items, but you need to read the ingredients to find safe sunscreens. Your local drug store will normally not stock these brands. Sometimes you can find these brands in Mexico, but they are not widely carried at the tourist shops or drugstores in Puerto Vallarta. Your best bet is to buy them online before your trip.
Q: Are there certain ingredients to watch out for?
A: Some of the most harmful ingredients that many sunscreens contain, including some that are actually biodegradable such as those made by Nature’s Gate and Australian Gold, are PABA, octinoxate, oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, oils, chemicals or the preservative butylparaben. If your sunscreen has any of these ingredients, it is not safe for use on the reefs.