On Tuesday, the Hawaii state legislature passed a bill that would ban sunscreen products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals are found in many popular sunscreens sold in the U.S., and are linked to hormone disruption in people and the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death.
Oxybenzone was added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens assessed in EWG’s 2017 Guide to Sunscreens. It can cause allergic skin reactions and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is detected in the blood of more than 96 percent of Americans. It is even found in breast milk. A recent study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone levels had significantly lower total testosterone levels. Octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, but more research is needed on this chemical.
“This is a kick in the pants to both the sunscreen industry and the Food and Drug Administration to move to safer and more effective chemical filters for sunscreen,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “The Hawaii ban calls attention to the fact that the sunscreen market is flooded with products that use potentially harmful ingredients and provide poor UVA protection. After decades of inadequate safety testing of current ingredients such as oxybenzone, the FDA is looking for safety data before approving new chemicals, but the industry has not yet stepped up to the plate. Now consumers are forcing change.”
If the Hawaii bill becomes law, the state’s ban on these sunscreen ingredients would go in effect in 2021. This gives sunscreen manufacturers and the FDA time to accelerate the much-needed review of safer, more effective chemicals and bring new products to market. EWG has supported more effective sunscreens and the safety testing of ingredients for more than a decade.
European consumers have access to highly effective sunscreens that protect them from ultraviolet rays that cause sunburns, contribute to wrinkling, and add to increasing rates of melanoma and other skin cancers. While most U.S. sunscreens prevent sunburn when used correctly, they are not as effective at preventing subtle skin damage from lower-energy UVA radiation.
Most of the best-scoring beach and sport sunscreen products in the EWG Guide to Sunscreens are mineral-based, using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to filter harmful radiation.
“Here is a great example of consumer-driven pressure for healthier, more effective sunscreen products,” said Nneka Leiba, the director of EWG’s healthy living science program. “Consumers want safer ingredients that the sunscreen industry and the FDA have not provided in the U.S. Most of the products sold in the U.S. aren’t as good as they should be and don’t offer enough protection against ultraviolet rays.”
Sunscreen manufacturers who make products for sale in Europe can pick and choose from seven active ingredients that offer strong protection against UVA radiation. Some of these chemicals appear to offer significant performance advantages over the sunscreen chemicals permitted by the FDA for use in products sold in the U.S.
Between 2003 and 2010, sunscreen makers applied for FDA permission to use eight sun-filtering chemicals developed by European companies. The FDA’s failure to respond to these applications prompted Congress to pass the Sunscreen Innovation Act of 2014. This act requires the FDA to review new applications for sunscreen active ingredients within 300 days, and requires that companies still prove their new ingredients are both safe and effective. The FDA requires manufacturers to submit complete copies of their health studies, which in some cases may take years.
In the meantime, Americans are being shortchanged.
“The ban on oxybenzone may just be the beginning,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. “Change in the U.S. sunscreen market is long overdue. Melanoma rates continue to increase and Americans are demanding stronger regulations and safer, more effective ingredients that won’t harm health or endanger the environment.”
The U.S. sunscreens market relies on outdated technology. It is time to finally review and approve new chemical filters that won’t harm health or the environment.