What’s coral’s beef with sunscreen?

In May 2018, Hawaii announced it had passed a bill to ban certain sunscreens that are harmful to coral reefs. The ban came into force in January this year (2021) and prohibited the sale of sunscreen products containing two common chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which many researchers worldwide have deemed potentially harmful to aquatic life (we do not use these ingredients). The bill was in response to a study that suggested two chemical sun filters, often found in sun protection products, had a harmful impact on coral reefs.

At LifeJacket we obviously keep a very close eye on the latest regulation in respect of both organic (i.e. “chemical”) and inorganic (i.e. “physical/mineral”) filters/blockers we use in our products. The primary thing is that we must follow the regulations in the territories in which we sell and this of course is focused very much on human safety. We also follow additional regulations that are not related to human safety but are related to environmental considerations. In respect of reef safety this is an evolving topic of conversation amongst scientists and government. Many global territories have their own guidance on these aspects so when it comes to reef safety we have been closely following Hawaii (in which the US FDA is present).

Other Chemicals

In Hawaii Some environmental advocates would also like to see a ban of all organic (i.e. “chemical”) sunscreen chemicals. The US FDA continues to evaluate the impacts of more than a dozen other chemicals contained in sunscreens including octocrylene (which we do currently use in some products). Although no ban has been enacted we continue to develop our products to take account of emerging evidence in the field whilst also ensuring total consumer safety and adherence to regulatory legal requirements.

Coral damage

The study in question was published in the journal, ‘Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology’.

It found that specific chemical sun filters have a range of effects on coral, including mortality in developing coral, bleaching of coral and genetic damage to coral and other organisms.

The study also found that both chemicals induce feminisation in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal.

The chemicals can also induce neurological behavioural changes in fish and have possible impact on the many endangered species found in Hawaii’s waters, including sea turtles.

The opposing view

On the other hand, the bill has its critics.

There are suggestions the decision is based on a limited body of scientific research. With the ban affecting an estimated 70% of sun protection products on the market, the move will make it more difficult for people to protect themselves.

To that point, the American Chemistry Council opposed the bill on the basis that sun exposure to humans is also a danger.

The alleged culprits

The two UV filters thought to cause coral damage are:

  • Oxybenzone (described as Benzophenone-3 on European labels) and
  • Octinoxate (described as Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate).

For the avoidance of doubt, neither of these ingredients are used in any LifeJacket products.

Suncare is (quite rightly) heavily regulated

Within Europe there is a defined list of the UV filters that are allowed to be used in cosmetic products.

For those of you who care, this is covered under Annex VI of the EC regulation 1223/2009.

The filters on the list have extensive data available concerning their safety and use. The list also sets out permitted conditions of use and the maximum concentration of the filter in a cosmetic product.

Our available “toolbox”

Below is the list of those ingredients permitted for use and available to us to protect your skin from the sun.

We have asterisked the ones we use in our range of innovative and high performance skin protection products.

To tackle UVA rays:

  • Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine*
  • Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane*
  • Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate*
  • Disodium Phenyl Dibenzimidazole Tetrasulfonate
  • Drometrizole TriSiloxane
  • Menthol Anthranilate
  • Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol*
  • Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid
  • Zinc Oxide (nano)

To tackle UVB rays:

  • 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor
  • Benzophenone-3 
  • Benzophenone-4 
  • Diethylhexyl Butamido Triazone 
  • Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate
  • Ethylhexyl Salicylate
  • Ethylhexyl Triazone
  • Ethylhexyl dimethyl PABA
  • Homomenthyl Salicylate
  • Isoamyl p-Methoxycinnamate*
  • Octocrylene*
  • PEG-25 PABA
  • Phenylbenzimidazol Sulfonic Acid
  • Polysilicone-15
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Tris Biphenyl Triazine*

Our position

Like everything in life, a balance needs to be struck between protecting ourselves and our environment. 

At LifeJacket we are fully aware and informed about the ingredients we use and they are carefully selected with that balance in mind.

Thanks for reading.