Researchers call for deeper look into the harmful effects of sunscreen

In an effort to save coral reefs from disappearing, sunscreen bans are now in effect across several islands.
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 10:54 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2022 at 4:16 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While negative impacts of climate change are well known, others are calling for more research into the harmful effects of sunscreen.

UH Manoa researchers said coral reefs around the world are threatened by five stressors including sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, tropical storms, land use and human population.

In an effort protect reefs, the state banned the sale of sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate, which became a law last year.

Maui’s ban on non-mineral sunscreens without a prescription recently went into effect October 1.

In an article co-authored by two Maui council members and published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, research found sunscreen washed off at Hawaii beach showers posed a threat to the marine environment.

However, sunscreens were not mentioned in the UH study released Tuesday. “Of course, we want to protect the environment, we want to protect our precious coral reefs,” said Dr. Kevin Cassel, associate professor of the UH Cancer Center. “But we also want to be mindful of the risk for skin cancers.”

Cassel and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform an environmental risk assessment on sunscreens.

The associate professor said most studies have been done in laboratory settings versus real world environments.

“We don’t know what reef safe sunscreens are,” said Cassel. “There’s no criteria, there’s no regulation, there’s no oversight.”

“The report says that all UV filters need to be examined for their effect in the aquatic setting.”

Cassel said the committee will present a formal presentation before the EPA next month.