Update (April 2018): Although you can largely blame underwater heat waves for the majority of coral reef bleaching, evidence shows that enough of the damage comes from the hazardous chemical ingredients in sunscreen. Last year, lawmakers at the state and county levels in Hawaii proposed legislation to ban oxybenzone-containing sunscreens due to the mass amount of damage to the oceanic ecosystem, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Now, they're trying again — and this time, it might actually work.
On April 18, lawmakers gathered to support Senate Bill 2571, which aims to ban chemical-based sunscreens starting July 1, 2019. This includes regulating the sale, offer of sale, or distribution in the state of Hawaii of any sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider.
The bill is yet to pass, but if it does, it Hawaii will be the first state to ban sunscreen with toxic chemicals.
This story was originally published July 13, 2016.
In case you haven't noticed, we take sunscreen very seriously around here. If you want to avoid skin cancer and delay the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, you and your SPF should be in a loving, committed partnership. But, as with any relationship, you have to go through a vetting process first. That's because all sun protectors aren't created equal. In fact, one of the most common ingredients on sunscreen labels is seriously jeopardizing the health of the world's coral reefs.
A study published in October 2015 showed that oxybenzone, a popular UV-filtering ingredient, is threatening coral — especially in tourist-heavy areas such as Hawaii and the Caribbean. Not only does the chemical kill coral, it also causes early DNA damage that stunts the growth of the organisms living in it.
If you've ever been snorkeling, you know how magnificent coral is. Looks aside, some varieties are considered keystone species in our aquatic ecosystem, meaning many animals' lives are dependent on the colorful organism. Coral reefs are crucial to recreational fisheries, the tourism industry, and medical research. Coral has provided advancements in the treatment of certain cancers and HIV, so who knows what we could learn from it in the coming years — that is, if we don't run the reefs into the ground first.
Luckily, doing your part to minimize the damage couldn't be simpler: Carefully read your sunscreen labels and screen your potential purchases for oxybenzone. Instead, opt for mineral-based varieties that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which protect without any guilt.