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Hawaii Bill To Ban Sunscreens That Kill Coral Reefs: What Are Oxybenzone And Octinoxate?

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Legislators in Hawaii passed a bill on Tuesday that would ban the sale and distribution of sunscreens on the state that use two chemicals that were deemed to be harmful to coral reefs.

Senate Bill 2571

If Gov. David Ige signs Senate Bill 2571 introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-­Makakilo), sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate will be banned effective Jan. 1, 2021.

It would also make Hawaii the first U.S. state to enact a legislation that protects the marine environment and ecosystem by prohibiting use of certain sunscreens.

"Amazingly, this is a first-in-the-world law," Gabbard said. "When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow."

Effect Of Sunscreen Chemicals On Coral Reefs

Scientists said that common ingredients used in many sunscreen products can accelerate coral bleaching and prevent coral reefs from regenerating, which can make them less resilient to the effects of climate change.

"Oxybenzone poses a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change," researchers wrote in a 2015 study.

Oxybenzone And Octinoxate

Oxybenzone is one of the most common chemicals used in chemical sunscreens. Its primary function is to absorb UV light. It is also used in nail polish fragrances, hair spray, and cosmetics as a photostabilizer.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which ranks sunscreen based on the chemical composition and effectiveness, the chemical is present in 65 percent of chemical sunscreens. EWG also recommends against use of sunscreens with oxybenzone.

Besides posing threats to the environment, oxybenzone may also have unwanted impacts on human health such that it alters sperm production in animals and is linked to endometriosis, a painful disorder that occurs when the tissue that normally lines inside the uterus, the endometrium, grows outside the uterus. The chemical is likewise linked to skin reactions and hormonal disruptions.

"EWG has reviewed the existing data about human exposure and toxicity for the nine most commonly used sunscreen chemicals. The most worrisome is oxybenzone, added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in EWG's 2017 sunscreen database," the EWG said.

"Oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions. In laboratory studies it is a weak estrogen and has potent anti-androgenic effects."

Octinoxate is another common ingredient used in sunscreen with SPF. It has also been shown to have hormone-mimicking effects on laboratory animals.

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