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baby coral are menaced by a skull and crossbones with a sunscreen icon on them

“Green” Screen?

I try to be environmentally conscious. I recycle. I try to turn off light when I leave a room. I try not to let the faucet run. I am “pro” earth. We have it pretty good here. Have you seen pictures of Saturn? I want to do my part and be a good steward of our home. I try to be aware. I just became aware of something that I did not know. It has been reported that the chemicals in some sunscreens are actually harmful to the coral reef in our oceans.

Where’s the beach?

I live in Buffalo, New York now, so I rarely think about the ocean these days. We have Lake Erie, but the two-inch waves don’t excite me much. Mostly the lake produces lots of snow here. In places like Hawaii they think about the ocean all the time. With tourism and fishing and aquatic industries being at the heart of the heart economic livelihood, they must. Understandable.

A new law regarding ocean safe sunscreen

This past summer Hawaii Governor David Ige signed the first bill in the country to ban the use of all sunscreens containing chemicals that can harm coral reefs.1 So, beginning on January 1, 2021, the sale or distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (which help filter out harmful UV rays) will be strictly prohibited.

Are we harming our ecosystem?

Recent studies have shown that these chemicals can kill coral when they have washed off swimmers and are discharged into wastewater treatment plants and redeposited into the ocean. “Oxybenzone is really toxic to the juvenile form of corals,” said Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist and executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory who will be attending the signing of the bill. “And that’s consistent with the dogma of toxicology that juveniles are usually a thousand times more sensitive to the toxic effects of a chemical than a parent.1

Alternate views

According to Downs, these chemicals cause coral larva to encase itself in its own skeleton where it falls to the bottom and dies. Ugh! Downs also argues that the use of these chemicals lowers the coral’s ability to resist the impact of climatic changes. Not everyone supports the ban. Sunscreen manufacturers argue that this ban is not supported by enough evidence and that banning the use of these two chemicals that are safe for humans should require more testing.

The pushback

The American Dermatology Association is also concerned that this may lead to more incidents of melanoma in Hawaii. According to Dr. Henry Lim from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, the limited number of FDA-approved UV filters makes finding suitable sunscreen options a challenge, but there are alternative ingredients with different mechanisms of sun protection, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Be aware

So, what does this all mean? It probably means that more research is needed, but that we should be aware of the studies and dangers proposed and the laws enacted. If the use of these chemicals concerns you, give a look at the article for recommendations on coral reef safe sunscreen products. I know that I will monitor the situation and if I am ever lucky enough to go to Hawaii or any beach, I will be applying reef-safe products for sure.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • Moonmomma
    8 months ago

    I have to honest I don’t like sunscreen. I wish I didn’t have to use it. It can be greasy and feel downright suffocating on my skin. This is a never ending battle to find a great sunscreen that works and isn’t bad for us or the environment. I think they are taking steps in the right direction, but it’s a long journey to “the perfect sunscreen”. I think we need to think of both the planet, how well it works and nothing harmful to us as well. Nothing that’s worth it is ever easy.

  • Scott Matheny moderator author
    8 months ago

    Well said. I want to do right on all accounts. It’s important to take care of our oceans and our skin and I will continue to monitor the situation. Scott ( moderator)

  • Nina M moderator
    8 months ago

    @Moonmomma, so well said! I agree it’s worth the effort to find a solution that works for humans and the other creatures we share the planet with. You’ve probably already seen it, but Scott also has an article where he talks about how much he dislikes sunscreen: So glad to have you hear sharing your thoughts! – Nina, Team

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