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July 11, 2018

Two sunscreen ingredients you might consider avoiding if you're concerned about the oceans

Hawaii became the first state to ban sunblocks with oxybenzone and octinoxate because of its impact on coral reefs

Prevention Sunscreen
05152018_Cape_May_beach Credit/CapeMay.com

On July 3, Hawaii governor David Ige signed legislation making it the first state to ban the sale or distribution of sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs.

Sunscreen is a must-have for any shore trip, but the next time you need to grab a backup bottle on the boardwalk, it might not hurt to put some extra thought into what brand you’re purchasing.

On July 3, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed legislation making it the first state to ban the sale or distribution of sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs.


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According to SB 2571, two ingredients in many sunscreens — oxybenzone and octinoxate — have “significant harmful impacts” on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems. The legislation explains both of these chemicals are "intended to be used as protection against ultraviolet light radiation." 

In the water, however, the chemicals cause mortality in developing coral, increase coral bleaching, and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms, according to the legslation.

Hawaii's new law still allows other ingredients in sunscreens, including physical sun blockers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association released a statement in response to the legislation, expressing reservations about a measure that would "ban at least 70 percent of the sunscreens on the market today."


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The CHPA asserted the “irresponsible action will make it more difficult for families to protect themselves against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and it is contrary to the many concerns expressed by Hawaii’s medical doctors, dermatologists, and public health experts.”

In a release posted to its website on July 5, the American Academy of Dermatology noted that while there is evidence of environmental concerns related to sunscreen chemicals, more research needs to be done.

“All of the active ingredients in U.S. sunscreens have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for human use,” AAD president Dr. Suzanne M. Olbricht said. “Claims that any of these ingredients are toxic or a hazard to human health have not been proven.

No such sunscreen banning legislation has been proposed to protect the shorelines of New Jersey or Delaware (yet), but if you feel the need to take an extra proactive step before you head to the sand and surf, here’s a look at a trio of popular brands with products determined “reef-safe” by the Environmental Working Group:

• Two of Coppertone's products (Defend & Car Face Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30; and Water Babies Pure & Simple Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50) are approved by the EWG.

• Four Neutrogena products (Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50 ; Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPFs 30 & 50 ; and Sheer Zinc Face Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 50) are approved by the EWG.

• Banana Boat's Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50 is approved by the EWG.

EWG's complete searchable guide to sunscreen brands and their active ingredients can be found here.