Sunscreen and science

  • Terry Lilly / Contributed photo

LIHUE — Specific kinds of sunscreens are disappearing from the shelves this summer in preparation for the 2021 Hawaii oxybenzone ban, which Gov. David Ige is expected to sign into law today.

The bill, SB 2571, says products that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems.”

The goal is to keep products with those chemicals away from Hawaii’s oceans, as those products can come off the skin and contaminate the water, according to the bill.

The ban’s foundation was largely based on research led by Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Va.

In 2016 his team developed a report showing oxybenzone and the chemical octinoxate could both stunt the growth of baby corals and that oxybenzone is toxic to some species.

But some scientists, health associations and ocean experts say an oxybenzone ban isn’t going to be the silver bullet for the problems with Hawaii’s coral reefs — and that they think there might not be enough evidence to enact a ban at all.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association said the ban is “based on weak science,” will remove about 70 percent of sunscreen products from shelves and is more likely to increase the number of people who don’t use sun protection when they go to Hawaii.

“This irresponsible action will make it more difficult for families to protect themselves against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays,” said the Consumer Healthcare Products Association in a statement about the ban.

The CHPA spokesman continued: “This ban also avoids the real causes of coral decline according to scientists in Hawaii and around the world: global warming, agricultural runoff, sewage, and overfishing. This ban creates false hope that banning sunscreen will restore the health of coral reef around the Hawaiian Islands.”

Ige is scheduled to sign Bill 2571 into law today and if it’s signed, the ban will go into effect January 2021.

On Kauai, Surfrider member Heather George said enacting the ban in 2021 allows companies to make adjustments and keep products on the shelves, hopefully restocking the current supply with oxybenzone-free options before the deadline.

“There are so many good ones (oxybenzone-free sunscreens) out there now. People just have to take the extra step and make sure there’s no oxybenzone,” George said.

It’s not the only thing affecting the reefs, she said. “There’s so much stuff causing problems; plastic and trash, marine debris, climate change, runoff from our streams,” she said. “It’s just one other thing that adds to the big picture.”

While some question the science behind the nation’s first oxybenzone ban, both companies and customers have started making adjustments.

Edgewell Personal Care, makers of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens, said the company is working toward complying with “relevant regulations” and already has oxybenzone-free products on the market.

“We are committed to providing consumers with safe and high quality sun care products, with the smallest environment impact possible,” the company said in a statement. “We offer consumers a broad range of sunscreens, some of which contain FDA-approved amounts of oxybenzone as an active ingredient to provide broad spectrum sun protection to wearers, and are labeled accordingly.”

George said she did lots of research before deciding on an oxybenzone-free sunscreen, and suggested visiting for ideas on products.

Marine biologist Katherine Muzik suggests using raspberry seed oil, “which provides 50 SPF — the max possible — while delicately moisturizing. It stays on during swimming and harms not the ocean lives, nor our own.”

Downs, who spearheaded the researched that forms the basis for Hawaii’s ban, suggests staying out of the sun and using anti-ultraviolet clothing along with safer sunscreens.

Joe DiNardo, colleague of Downs, suggests pairing protective clothing with sunscreen.

“I agree with the FDA and World Health Organization who state that sunscreens are not enough — one must practice sun avoidance when possible,” he said. “Rather than sunscreens being the first line of defense, they should be the last.”

He suggests using cabanas or beach umbrellas and minimizing exposure to the sun during the day when the sun is most intense. Light colored clothing that allows skin to breathe, large brimmed hats and sunglasses can also help reduce exposure to the sun.

Retired Kaiser family physician Gordon LaBedz has a different take on the subject and says he doesn’t recommend sun avoidance or getting sunburns, but finding a balance.

“Sunshine is critical for good health, your body needs it for vitamin D production,” LaBedz said. “Getting sunburned is not a good idea, but neither is slathering your body with untested, yes, untested chemicals called sunscreens. The incidence of dangerous skin cancer is going up, there are some that think sunscreens may be part of the problem.”


Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at

  1. some dude July 3, 2018 12:22 pm Reply

    Well….no…..duh! Leaky septic tanks, glufosinate runoff and gas/oil being dumped from old abandoned cars….the mental gymnastics of hawaii lawmakers are astonishing.

  2. Charlie Chimknee July 4, 2018 10:18 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    While sunscreen keeps people from getting red skin from sunburn, it does not stop our skin from cellular damage that becomes melanoma and other disease conditions.

    As mentioned in the very good HEALTH Education article above, the best protections from the damage of the sun’s rays are being under roofs, tents, tarp tops, etc., or in dark clothing, hats, anything that blocks the sun naturally, but not chemically like lotions, ointments, and creams.

    Using a mere lotion or other surface skin application is foolish.

    An automobile tire can “melt” (deteriorate) from the sun’s rays to almost nothing left while it is left outdoors for a couple of years, even in inclement weather in locations known to not have sunny climates.

    If the sun can “melt” tires and even thick plastic toys and plastic chairs and other heavy plastic things, even thinking that an ointment or lotion or cream can physically block the sun is foolish.

    To protect yourself from the sun requires old fashioned reliable sun protection…cover up by being under or inside solid material protection.

    As to sunscreen, while Hawaiian Monk Seals are impacted by “foreign” chemicals like sunscreen and Agriculture poisons in the ocean; these chemicals reduce the individual seal’s or human’s resistance to disease. Making cat feces bacteria just a coincidental “rider” with the death of the animal; but possibly not the cause of death.

    When an animal is dead on the side of the road and is covered in flies, it was not the flies that killed the animal…the flies were an incidence or co-incidence of the death…when the animals death was maybe actually caused by a car or poison, whatever.

    The point is, chemicals, especially carcinogenic chemicals found in most foods and medicines reduce the resistance of our immune systems, leaving us vulnerable to disease, and abusive substances like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs do the same.

    Live naturally, life longevity remains optimal until you reduce it with many man made things of pseudo science developed recklessly for profit and short term benefit or Fake Euphoria.

    Be natural, we need you…! ! !



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