JUL 16, 2018 4:46 AM PDT

Do you know what your sunscreen is doing to coral reefs?

Hawaii Governor David Ige has signed into law a ban on the sale, offer, or distribution of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. That means that come January 1, 2021, Hawaii will be hopefully be free of these chemical-touting sunscreens (unless you’ve got your doctor)! Sometimes labeled as benzophenone-3 and octyl methoxycinnamate, these chemicals have been shown to cause environmental harm – particularly for coral reefs. Given Hawaii’s desire to protect its reefs, Governor Ige’s move seems like a smart one.

The ban was prompted from research from a study by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a nonprofit scientific organization. The results of this study determined that oxybenzone and octinoxate, when washed off into the water from our sunscreen-ed bodies, cause bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and death in coral.

"Oxybenzone is really toxic to the juvenile form of corals," said Craig Downs, who is a forensic ecotoxicologist and the executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. "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."

Although oxybenzone and octinoxate are on the US Food and Drug Administration's list of approved active ingredients for sunscreen, studies have shown toxic levels of the chemicals in fish, sea turtle eggs, algae, dolphins, oysters, crayfish, mussels, and even human and dolphin breast milk, says to Downs. In addition, CNN reports that the Environmental Working Group has also asserted that the chemicals may cause hormone disruptions and allergic skin reactions.

Downs explains that the problem with these chemicals is that they disrupt the symbiotic relationship between the coral and algae. “The coral larva encases itself in its own skeleton, where it falls to the bottom of the sea and dies,” reports CNN. This threatens the resiliency of coral reefs, which, considering that they’re already up against climate change, El Niño, and overfishing, is just too much. And switching over from oxybenzone and octinoxate to zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sunscreens is an easy solve.

Aerosol sunscreens are the worst offender because the chemicals travel fast. Photo: Badger Balm

Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources reports that the sunscreen issue is more of a local matter (i.e. there’s not much concern of your beach day oils in Maine getting all the way to Hawaii’s corals), though Downs says that oxybenzone and octinoxate have been detected in waters all around the world. And because oxybenzone has a half-life of 2.4 years in seawater, as CNN explains, a sewage plume or water from a popular swimming area has the ability to go downstream and drain into coastal waters. Another consequence to remember is that all coastal regions have important marine life that the chemicals might be affecting, even if coral reefs aren’t common in your area. So, the main take-away point from this study: switch to zinc oxide!

Sources: CNN (1) (2), Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUN 03, 2022
Cannabis Sciences
Seeds matter when growing cannabis
JUN 03, 2022
Seeds matter when growing cannabis
Seeds are where it all begins when growing high quality weed. Here's how to select the right ones.
JUN 04, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Opening a Champagne Bottle Creates Shock Waves like a Fighter Jet
JUN 04, 2022
Opening a Champagne Bottle Creates Shock Waves like a Fighter Jet
A new study led by Gérard Liger-Belair, a professor of chemical physics at the University of Reims Cham ...
JUN 29, 2022
Technology
All-in-one 3D printing method used to make robot materials in a single step
JUN 29, 2022
All-in-one 3D printing method used to make robot materials in a single step
Humanity is devoted to constructing its own demise because we’re absolutely obsessed with building robots, and the ...
JUL 04, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Space tourism growth could lead to climate change effects greater than the aviation industry
JUL 04, 2022
Space tourism growth could lead to climate change effects greater than the aviation industry
Space tourism is becoming a booming industry thanks to private companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX. ...
JUN 29, 2022
Microbiology
Unleashing the Genetic Power of Ocean Microbes
JUN 29, 2022
Unleashing the Genetic Power of Ocean Microbes
By analyzing over 1,000 samples of the marine environment, researchers have reconstructed the genomes of 25,000 novel mi ...
AUG 08, 2022
Technology
Exploring cell processes with DNA-built 'Nano-Robot'
AUG 08, 2022
Exploring cell processes with DNA-built 'Nano-Robot'
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Inserm, CNRS and Université de Montpellier ...
Loading Comments...