What’s In Your Sunscreen?

Samantha Zeitz

When at the beach, many people apply sunscreen to protect themselves from harmful UV rays; however, some sunscreens contain chemicals that are harmful to marine life when you enter the water. One US state is working to ban these harmful sunscreens.

According to The Guardian, Hawaii has passed a bill to ban sunscreens that are causing negative effects to their coral reefs. If signed by state governor David Ige, the ban will become a reality in January 2021, making Hawaii the first US state to implement such a ban. This includes sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Large amounts of these chemicals have been found at popular beaches and reefs including Waimea Bay, Hanauma Bay and Waikiki Beach. Oxybenzone still has toxic effects even if one drop were to be diluted in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools. As it turns out, the chemicals have been found in 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion that ends up in coral reefs annually.

A study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, revealed oxybenzone and octinoxate have multiple negative side effects. These include mortality in developing coral, coral bleaching, and genetic damage to not only coral but other organisms as well. They have found that both chemicals can induce feminisation in adult male fish, as well as increase the risk of reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal. There have also been negative impacts on Hawaii’s endangered species including sea turtles.

Craig Downs is a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. He has stated that he believes the ban will be the first real chance for coral reefs to start recovering. Many factors, including climate change have been impacting reefs but oxybenzone stops them from re-growing. There are reef-friendly sunscreens available so make sure to check what’s in your sunscreen before going in the water. Although Hawaii is the first state to pass a bill, other jurisdictions, such as the Virgin Islands, south Florida and areas in Mexico have been encouraging their visitors to use sunscreen with biodegradable chemicals.