Sunscreen chemical ban
90 percent of sunscreen brands sold contribute to the bleaching and inevitable death of coral. Common sunscreen ingredients such as octinoxate and oxybenzone (a.k.a. benzophenone-3 and BP-3), have proven to be toxic to living coral. This toxicity occurs even at a concentration equivalent to about one drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. It causes destructive mutations at a genetic level and higher concentrations of the chemical also directly correlate with increased instances of coral bleaching, when the symbiotic algae that give coral its color are killed off, leaving a white skeleton. Our legislature passed a bill that bans the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate starting in 2020. And recently, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban both chemicals.
Coral reefs provide half the world’s oxygen and a third of its carbon absorption. In addition to being a tourist attraction, our reefs protect our islands against storms and are critical to the island ecosystem. “The reef is like the supermarket of the entire ecosystem,” says Dr. Andrew Rossiter, executive director of the Waikiki Aquarium. It’s the basis for sustaining life, both below the ocean’s surface and above. And it’s remarkably easy for you to make a difference—a huge difference, in fact.
The Friends of Hanauma Bay encourages all visitors to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to check the ingredients of their sunscreen products and to not use sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Reef-safe sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, but be sure to look for the term “non-nano” on the label. Nanoparticles—formulations below 100 nanometers—are unsafe because they can be ingested by corals. (The only true reef-safe ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide.)
According to the study by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL) that showed the harmful effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on corals, other chemicals in sunscreens are also harmful. The laboratory has created the HEL LIST, a list of chemicals that are known pollutants in many different environments (freshwater streams, river, beaches, and ocean systems) and to wildlife (such as corals, fish, birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles).
Please don't use products that contain any of the following chemicals:
Oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, Octocrylene, Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), Methyl Paraben, Ethyl Paraben, Propyl Paraben, Butyl Paraben, Benzyl Paraben, Triclosan, plus any form of microplastic sphere or beads., and any nanoparticles
Unfortunately, our wastewater treatment facilities do NOT eliminate chemicals in sunscreen from our wastewater or from being dumped into the ocean, so the best way to help our efforts to eliminate reef-toxic sunscreen from our marine environment is to:
1. Avoid being in the sun during the sunniest part of the day (11-3);
2. Wear protective clothing (hat, long sleeve shirt, rash guard) to minimize body areas that will need sunscreen;
3. Choose to use mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of chemical sunscreens; and
4. Choose mineral sunscreen that is broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB), and is at least SPF30 (don’t really need more than that). Note: Spray sunscreens are NOT recommended by the Environmental Working Group, due to a risk of inhalation and difficulty ensuring an adequately thick and even layer on skin.
If you do use sunscreen, be sure to use it way in advance of entering the water so that it is absorbed properly by your skin.
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