Should common sunscreen ingredients be banned?



Should sunscreens containing the active ingredient oxybenzone should be banned?  There are some who argue that, because of concerns that oxybenzone may have a negative effect on corals, sunscreens containing this (along with a few other chemicals) should be banned from places where it can enter the ocean.  In Hawaii, there is a bill being considered (HB 2723) that would make it "...unlawful to sell, offer for sale, or distribute for sale any SPF sunscreen product that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, unless the product is sold or distributed to fulfill a prescription."  


Why?  "The legislature finds that the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in some sunscreens, enter the ocean by washing off swimmers, surfers, paddlers, spearfishers, divers, and other ocean users. Although these chemicals are also present in other products, sunscreen products are by far the largest source of oxybenzone and octinoxate present in the ocean.  The legislature further finds that notable scientific evidence from years of research shows that oxybenzone and oxtinoxate are toxic to coral and threaten the health of reefs. These chemicals bioaccumulate in corals and cause developmental deformities, cellular degradation, and tissue lysis in coral larvae, which makes them unable to swim and settle out to form new coral colonies. In addition, exposure to oxybenzone and oxtinoxate makes coral more susceptible to bleaching at lower temperatures, and reduces the resiliency of a reef and its ability to recover from the impacts of other environmental hazards."

This "legislative finding" sounds more absolute than it should.  I think any impact is subject to local conditions.

A lot of the concern comes from the results of one study, which noted in its abstract (all I have access to), that "Oxybenzone poses a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change."  Although this was a laboratory study, I have no reason to doubt its conclusions.


Bob Kern collecting water samples to be tested.

Hanauma Bay is being tested for its exposure to oxybenzone.  With the small and defined watershed, in addition to the large numbers of documented visitors every year (over a million), this seems like an ideal location for a study on the impacts of oxybenzone.  However, I would make any study more expansive.  Hanauma Bay has a million people a year peeing in the bay, resulting in a constant infusion of excreted pharmaceuticals being dispersed into the water, particularly in the inner reef.  Prescription drugs can end up in surprising places.  Common pharmaceuticals should be included in any monitoring program.

In addition, it seems appropriate that somebody do a survey of the sunscreen products actually being used.  What percentage of these visitors are using oxybenzone-based sunscreens?

Finally, as part of a benefits and cost analysis, the whole reason for sunscreens in the first place is to prevent sunburns and skin cancers.  Are there health-related consequences to a ban that need to be part of the decision-making equation?


Sun worshipers at Manly Beach.
There are products without oxybenzone.

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