In May 2018, Hawaii announced it had passed a bill to ban some sunscreens thought to be harmful to coral reefs. The ban came into force in January 2021 and prohibited the sale of products containing two common chemical UV filters: oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The bill was in response to a study suggesting that sunscreen ingredients had a harmful impact on coral reefs and aquatic life. In fact, some environmental advocates in Hawaii wanted to see a blanket ban on all chemical sunscreens (leaving just physical sunscreens as the only sunscreen option for consumers).
The case for...
The study that triggered the Hawaii bill 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 case against...
On the other hand, the bill has several critics.
There are suggestions the decision was based on a limited body of scientific research, that the amount of sunscreen that actually finds its way into the world's enormous bodies of ocean doesn't match the study and, perhaps more critically, that there are far more significant factors threatening coral and sea life, such as global warming and coastal development.
Some people believe it's easier for governments to ban sunscreen ingredients in the name of supporting the environment rather than address the bigger matter of climate change.
Sun care is (quite rightly) heavily regulated
Within Europe there's a defined list of UV filters that are allowed to be used in cosmetic products (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 dose that can be used in a cosmetic product.
The primary concern for cosmetics regulators is, of course, human safety.
How does LifeJacket deal with this?
We obviously keep a very close eye on the latest regulation in respect of both the organic (i.e. chemical) and inorganic (i.e. physical/mineral) filters that we use in our products.
We must (and do) follow the regulations in the territories where we sell and this is focused on human safety, as mentioned. However, we also follow additional guidelines 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 among scientists and governments and one we always keep an eye on.
Many global territories have their own guidance on these aspects so when it comes to reef safety. we've been closely following Hawaii. As a result, we do not use oxybenzone or octinoxate in any of our cosmetic products.
Beware of the marketing demons
We've tried to present a balanced view here but the question of 'reef safe' is not a simple one
Given that we do not use oxybenzone or octinoxate, we have as much right as many products to claim our products are 'reef safe'. The reason we don't actively promote that claim is because it isn't a term that has an official accreditation or definition. There is no regulatory body or official list of ingredients to govern the claim 'reef safe' which opens things up for abuse.
We absolutely understand why it's a consideration for consumers but as a term itself, it lacks regulatory definition or parameters. We fully appreciate consumers want to be doing the right thing by the environment and ecosystems that we impact but we'd hate to be a brand that adopts certain marketing phrases opportunistically, just because we believe consumers want to see or hear it.
Like most things in life, a balance needs to be struck between protecting ourselves and our environment. Rest assured that at LifeJacket we're fully aware and informed about the ingredients we use and they're carefully selected with that balance in mind.