Experts Disagree on Sunscreen Ingredient Ban

Apr 4, 2018

Credit Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

The State Legislature is considering a bill to ban two sunscreen ingredients over concerns they harm the state’s reefs.  But not everybody agrees that’s the right thing to do. Contributing reporter Sherry Bracken has more from Hawai‘i Island.

Healthy reefs are critical for everything from fish habitat to protection from ocean surge. Senate Bill 2571 would ban the commonly used ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate from sunscreens sold here in the state. Dr. Craig Downs with Haereticus Labs in Virginia started his research more than a decade ago:

“We were tasked to understand why coral reefs were degrading in the Virgin Islands National Park.  We did a full chemical analysis for heavy metals, petroleum products, PCBs, nothing was showing up. But the coral wouldn’t heal, there were no new coral, no sea urchins. We conducted ten years research in different parts of the world. At Hanauma Bay, the highest concentration was 30,000 parts per trillion.  Corals exhibit toxicities to oxybenzone as low as 62 parts per trillion.”

Dr Monica Scheel is a board certified dermatologist in Kona. 

“We see a lot of sun damage, wrinkles and brown spots to skin cancer like basal cell, squamaous cell and even life threatening cancers like melanoma from UV exposure.”

But not everybody agrees that banning oxybenzone and octinoxate is the right approach. Dr. Jay Sirois is the Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a 137-year-old trade association representing manufacturers of over-the-counter personal care products. He says 70 percent of sunscreens contain oxybenzone. 

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“There’s too much at stake for the health of the citizens of Hawai'i. There are other causes contributing far more to coral bleaching such as climate change, overfishing, agricultural runoff.”

Dr. Scheel says the first protection should be covering up, plus sunscreen on exposed skin. 

“Your best sun protection ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  There are a lot of sunscreens that are oxybenzone free."