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Simply Sustainable: Fight Against Reef-Harming Sunscreens

Hawaii is a leading state in the fight against synthetic sunscreens. Not only do ingredients in these sunscreens pose a threat to our health, but they are also harming marine ecosystems. Coral reefs, being the main ecosystem affected, bring in millions of dollars to Hawaii's economy through the tourism industry. They are important ecosystems to protect because they play a key role in helping to regulate the health of the ocean. 

Back in 2018, legislation was passed to ban the sale of sunscreens that include oxybenzone and octinoxate. This legislation just recently went into effect on January 1st of this year. Hawaii is now pushing for further legislation that is currently advancing through the Senate and House of Representatives to call for the ban to also include sunscreens containing avobenzone and octocrylene.

 What are Avobenzone and Octocrylene? 

The sun produces two kinds of UV rays, UVB and UVA. UVB rays cause sunburns and UVA rays penetrate deeper in the skin and can cause future skin damage. Not all sunscreens protect from both rays so ingredients are often coupled together to make sunscreens more stable. 

Avobenzone is an ingredient that absorbs UVB rays but research shows that avobenzone breaks down about 30 minutes after being exposed to the sun and does not provide long-lasting sun protection. So, octocrylene is often added to stabilize the product and make is last longer.  

Studies have shown that octocrylene can accumulate in aquatic species and can lead to DNA damage and developmental problems. Common seafood has also been tested and concentrations of UV absorbers have been found in alarming amounts, posing a potential threat to us if consumed. 

Similar to octinoxate, octocrylene is considered a photosensitizer. A photosensitizer, when exposed to UV rays, can contribute to the production of free radicals in the skin which increases the risk of skin damage. Since octocrylene is easily absorbed into the skin, the regulation and safety of it is extremely important as it could possibly accumulate and lead to future damage. 

When purchasing sunscreens, reach for a physical sunscreen rather then a chemical one. Sunscreens that contain ingredients like zinc-oxide are considered more safe but still require further research.  

Learn more about the toxicity of synthetic sunscreen ingredients and their threats to coral reefs here.

Read more about the sunscreen bans here.


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