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Eco-friendly sunscreens may sound like a good idea, but dermatologists actually want you to avoid them

Eco-friendly sunscreens may sound like a good idea, but dermatologists actually want you to avoid them

sunblock sunscreen women

  • Hawaii is the first state to ban the sale of chemical sunscreens, which can be toxic to coral reefs and marine life.
  • The alternative to chemical sunscreens, with ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, is mineral sunscreen; many consider it the greener option.
  • However, Hawaii has the highest rate of new melanoma diagnoses in the country, according to the most recent research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • One dermatologist says the ban is a disservice to Hawaiians, while environmentalists and consumer groups are cheering the legislation.


With Hawaii ushering in new legislation that will ban the sale of chemical sunscreens, which can be toxic to coral reefs and marine life, consumers might be putting themselves at risk.

Chemical sunscreens, which contain ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, are effective because they block UVA and UVB rays, Dr. Darrell Rigel, a board-certified dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, told INSIDER.

Chemical sunscreens also don’t easily wash off from sweat and water, unlike mineral-based sunscreens, which make it more effective for people who don’t reapply sunblock.

“We know that regular use of sunscreen reduces the risk for melanoma and skin cancer,” Dr. Rigel said. “One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime.”

Despite concerns from dermatologists like Dr. Rigel about cancer, mineral sunscreens are still safe to use and just as effective; they may just require a heavier hand during application.

“We educate users on how to apply,” Caroline Duell, founder of All Good, a coral reef-safe sunscreen line, told INSIDER.

All Good sunscreen uses non-nanoparticle zinc oxide, which disperses UV rays as heat, Duell said. Unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreen like All Good does not absorb but rather refracts the light and creates a protection on the skin, she said.

Duell, who is based in California and a member of the Safe Sunscreen Council, applauded the legislation.

“It’s a new wave of global awareness,” she said, citing the potential damage chemical sunscreen has to both humans and the ecosystem.

Ninety-six percent of Americans carry traces of oxybenzone in their bloodstream, according to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit.

Oxybenzone, after all, is one of 21 FDA-approved sunscreen agents, Dr. Rigel said.

However, it is contested whether those trace amounts cause damage internally.

Dr. Rigel said he is skeptical of the effects of trace oxybenzone in the ocean causing coral reef damage — the main research that prompted the passage of Hawaii’s new law — and cited global warming and rising ocean temperatures as the major causes of bleaching.

“The science there is not really strong,” he said.

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