Sunscreen has been proven to protect the skin from the sun's UV rays and reduce the chance of developing skin cancer. But recently, environmentalists have raised concerns about the chemicals in sunscreen. Specifically, scientists believe that some of the chemicals in many of the most popular sunscreens can cause significant damage to the world's coral reefs. It is estimated that coral reefs are exposed to nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen every year. As such, many places around the world have begun to ban certain types of sunscreen. Here's a list of the top four places where your sunscreen might not cut it.
Hawaii is a popular tourist destination in the United States. The beautiful beaches, warm weather, and overall tropical feel make the island the perfect spot to get away and enjoy some time in the sun. But Hawaii is also home to the largest number of endangered species in the United States, including the green sea turtle and the Hawaiian monk seal. It is also home to a diverse and stunning collection of coral reefs. Hawaii has always focused on protecting the landscape of its islands. Recently, it became the first location to enact significant changes regarding the use of sunscreen.
In May 2018, the state legislature passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. In addition to a process called coral bleaching, the toxins are believed to cause DNA damage, deformities, and eventual death to the coral. The bill was signed by Hawaii Governor David Ige in July 2018 and will go into effect January 1, 2021.
The Florida Keys
Following Hawaii's lead, the Florida Keys, home to the largest coral reef in the United States, passed legislation to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The Key West law is also scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021. Proponents of the bill cited concerns over coral bleaching and "other toxic effects." Key West's Mayor Teri Johnston noted that there are many options on the market and said, "...We have an opportunity to do one small thing to protect that. I believe it's our obligation."
But while other cities in the state have considered similar bans, including Miami, the state as a whole is pushing back on the law. In February 2019, First Coast News reported that the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee is looking at the option of punishing cities and municipalities who choose to enact sunscreen bans. Senator Travis Huston says that he believes that if tourists visit these cities and cannot find their favorite sunscreen that they will decide to forego wearing sunscreen altogether. He said, "We could be renamed through tourists ... instead of the Sunshine State, they'll think of us as the melanoma capital of the world. I think that's a terrible idea."
Just two months after Hawaii passed their bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing toxic chemicals, the Caribbean island of Bonaire did the same. The island, located east of Aruba, is a popular destination for divers. Its location just below the hurricane belt means that there's never a bad time to visit Bonaire. The island council unanimously voted to approve a ban of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The motion to create this ban was presented to the council after the Netherlands did extensive testing of the water surrounding the island. Though there have not been any details about the new law, the ban is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021.
Palau is a small and diverse group of islands located in the South Pacific. With a population of 21,000, the country ranks as one of the least populated places on earth. The rich forests and crystal waters make it a perfect destination for water lovers. The country has always had a substantial focus on protecting the environment and has enacted several measures in the past to maintain the island's beauty and biodiversity.
In November 2018, Palau became the first country to ban what they consider "reef-toxic" sunscreens. Palau's president said that he believes that the country has an obligation to protect the islands. Under the new law, retailers who sell banned sunscreens will be subject to a $1,000 fine. A spokesperson for the president said that the bill was inspired by an alarming study that found a high level of sunscreen toxins in the country's popular Jellyfish Lake. Unlike the other locations on this list, Palau has expedited the process to put this ban into effect. Their new law goes into place sometime in 2020.
Continuing research has caused several other locations to develop laws surrounding the use of toxic sunscreens. It is estimated that about half of the sunscreens on the market contain the substances in question. That's down from nearly 75% just five years ago. Many popular tourist destinations in Mexico have already enacted laws similar to the ones listed above. Also, several parks in Riviera Maya have banned what they consider non-biodegradable sunscreens.
While these bans may eliminate a few familiar brands from the shelf, you still need to protect yourself in the sun. As research continues, major brands are continuing to create new formulas that don't contain these chemicals. Hats, long sleeves, and cover-ups are also a great choice for staying safe in the sun.