By Kim Robson:
I’m one of those weirdos who hate to wear sunscreen. It’s expensive, smelly, greasy, sticky and full of toxic chemicals; and the SPF ratings are not to be trusted. I feel disgusting with it on. You have to reapply it every two hours (more often if you go into the water), and they recommend using one full ounce (the equivalent of a shot glass full) per application. That’s a LOT of goop to smear on, folks.
As a fair-skinned redhead, I need to protect my skin from UV rays even more than most people. I get around my aversion to sunscreen by wearing wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved t-shirts when I’m out in the sun. I wear driving gloves to protect the backs of my hands while on long trips. The products I normally use (namely hand lotion, face cream and lip gloss) already have sunscreen built in.
In particular, and , commonly found in over 3,500 sunscreens, are the most concerning. They can be found in popular sunscreens including Coppertone, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic. Oxybenzone and octinoxate filter and absorb UV light, allowing us to spend more time in the sun; but when they rinse off in seawater, these chemicals are devastating to coral and fish. Why?
Oxybenzone and octinoxate leach nutrients from coral, causing it to bleach white, and weakening its defenses against climate change. According to , “even a small drop is enough to damage delicate corals.” The chemicals are also endocrine disrupters, resulting in reproductive diseases, embryonic deformation, and feminization of male fish. And it’s affecting not just fish: says that oxybenzone is harmful to all mammals: “In mammals, especially humans, oxybenzone has been shown to induce photo-allergic contact dermatitis in 16-25 percent of the population. Oxybenzone causes toxicity to sperm development and sperm viability, reduced prostate weight in mature males, and reduced uterine weight in juvenile females.”
Water from Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay in November 2017 found alarming levels of oxybenzone in the seawater: an average of 4,661 nanograms per liter of seawater, with the highest concentration at 29,000 nanograms per liter. Ecotoxicologist and water sampler Craig Downs , “Anything above basically 50 nanograms per liter of seawater of oxybenzone can induce toxicity in a variety of marine organisms. That affects coral, algae, sea urchins, algae eaters, all of them. That’s why there’s less fish.”
Scientists think that as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash into the world’s oceans every year. Yikes!
In response, the state of Hawaii has approved a ban on sunscreens containing chemicals known to be damaging to coral reefs. Once Governor David Ige signs the bill, , it will take effect on January 1, 2021, and it will be the first sunscreen ban anywhere in the world. Hawaii hopes this will slow the destruction of its priceless coral reefs and give them a chance to heal, ultimately preserving them for future tourists and local residents to enjoy for generations to come.
The bill will allow exceptions for prescription sunscreens and general cosmetics.
Although this is the first such law in place, there are a few environmentally sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Sites that have banned all sunscreen products. Other delicate locations have restricted all tourist access, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, some natural resource agencies in Asia, and in Mexico’s eco-parks, where the use of oxybenzone-containing sunscreens is forbidden.