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Sunscreens containing minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide reflect the sun’s rays away from skin and are a good alternative to chemicals that could be harmful to ocean reefs. Only the sunscreens that use the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate are being banned which is harmful the state’s biggest attractions — coral reefs.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige is expected to sign the world’s first ban on the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate this week. While it may apply by 2021, that is because 70percent of the sunscreen manufacturers use the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.

“The legislature further finds that environmental contamination of oxybenzone and octinoxate persists in Hawaii’s coastal waters, as the contamination is constantly refreshed and renewed every day by swimmers and beachgoers,” according to the bill.

Jay Sirois, director of regulatory affairs for an association that represents sunscreen manufacturers, recently told NPR: “We’re taking away a product, or products that have been shown over the course of time to be safe and effective” against the harmful effects of the sun.

Both chemicals have had the Food and Drug Administration’s approval for decades, but in recent years, some environmental research has suggested octinoxate can contribute to coral bleaching and that oxybenzone exposure leads to the death of baby coral.

“Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that excess sun exposure without effective sunscreen increases the risk of developing skin cancer in both adults and children,” the association said in a statement in May. “Banning oxybenzone and octinoxate — key ingredients in effective sunscreens on the market — will drastically and unnecessarily reduce the selection of safe and effective sunscreen products available to residents and visitors. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, found in the majority of sunscreens, are safe and effective over-the-counter (OTC) active ingredients recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as important aides in decreasing the risk of developing skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S.”

While it’s been demonstrated to be safe for human use, the chemicals in question can actually kill young coral outright, while also contributing to bleaching effects on mature coral. Coral reefs the world over are already having a rough go of things thanks to warming ocean temperatures and mankind’s inability to clean up after itself. The ban on these particular compounds — which the majority of sunscreens include — should provide at least some relief for the reefs around the Hawaiian islands, and hopefully the push towards new sunblock formulas will cause the manufacturers to roll out updated products across the board.

With all the troubles facing coral reefs it might seem like sunscreen would be the least of our worries, but the amount of sunblock that finds its way into the oceans is actually pretty astounding. It’s estimated that as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion is deposited into ocean waters every single year, and that’s something that isn’t likely to change. However, if companies can improve their products and avoid damage to coral reefs, which serve as the backbone of the ocean ecosystem, a big step forward.


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