Every year, as warmer weather begins, we are all reminded of the importance of sunscreen. It's essential for protecting our skin from harmful UV rays that could lead to skin cancer, which is one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in the United States. And while sunscreen is certainly extremely important, it also has its fair share of negative side effects, one being the way it impacts the environment. According to The Hill, Hawaii will soon ban these kinds of sunscreen that contain chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs, and it's a really significant move.
In recent years, research has found that two chemicals commonly found in most sunscreen products are toxic to coral reefs and marine life. According to scientists, the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate are destroying oceans all over the world. A study done by the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology from 2015 found that about 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion end up in coral reefs throughout the world every single year. The chemicals oxybenzone and oxtinoxate leach nutrients out of the coral, which breaks it down and impacts the development of fish and marine life.
According to BuzzFeed, the highest concentrations of sunscreen were discovered in tourist destinations like Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands. A study conducted by the non-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Hawaii looked at snorkeling spot Hanauma Bay last year and found that nearly 2,600 average daily visitors left about 412 pounds of sunscreen in the ocean.
The bill to ban the sale of sunscreens containing these toxic chemicals without a prescription was passed by the Hawaii state legislature on May 1. If the governor signs the bill, the ban would begin in January 2021, and would affect many popular sunscreen brands.
Coral reefs are increasingly threatened by the growing human population, and it's imperative to keep them safe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard coral, and hundreds of other species." Scientists even say there could be 1 to 8 million more undiscovered species in the reefs. Many don't realize that reefs are essential to finding new medicines for the 21st century, with many drugs being developed from reef animals and plants, including potential cures for cancer, infections, viruses, and other diseases.
Reefs act as protection for important wetlands along the coast, helping to keep ports and harbors safe. On top of that, they contribute to local economies through tourism, and have a high commercial value. From that perspective, it's understandable why Hawaii would want to ban the sale of sunscreens containing these chemicals.
That said, it's important to point out that the sunscreen doesn't just get to the reefs if you take a dip in the ocean, but comes from wastewater streams as well. Hawaii state Sen. Laura Thielen told KHON2, "More and more people realize, as you go home and shower the water is getting treated and put out into the ocean. So really it's damaging our corals no matter whether you're wearing it on the land or at the beach."
You don't need to stop using sunscreen altogether in order to avoid spreading these chemicals to coral reefs, and definitely shouldn't. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are found in some of the most popular sunscreen brands, but more and more sustainable options are coming onto the market daily. Alba Botanica and All Good make sunscreens without these chemicals, and you can always be mindful of the ingredients list when searching for sunscreens.