Hawaii’s legislature has approved a measure to prohibit sunscreens containing two key ingredients.
If signed into law by the governor, SB 2571 will ban the sale or distribution in the state of any sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate from 2021. There is an exemption for consumers with a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider.
According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the move will ban "at least 70% of the sunscreens on the market today".
The bill cites the "significant harmful impacts" the substances have had on Hawaii’s coral reefs and marine organisms. And it notes that they "appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption".
But the Personal Care Products Council, the main industry body, said in a statement the bill is "based on a limited body of scientific research from which concrete conclusions cannot be drawn".
And the CHPA said the measure relies on "weak science". The "real causes" of coral decline are global warming, agricultural runoff, sewage and overfishing, it said.
The healthcare products group called the legislature’s move an "irresponsible action [that] will make it more difficult for families to protect themselves against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays".
"Banning oxybenzone and octinoxate – key ingredients in effective sunscreens on the market – will drastically and unnecessarily reduce the selection of safe and effective sunscreen products available," it added.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate have remained prominent in the US, even while in other countries alternative substances have gained more widened use. This is due to a decades-long backlog for new ingredient approvals at the Food and Drug Administration.
In 2014, Congress passed the Sunscreen Innovation Act, which sought to expedite the agency’s approval process and allow ingredients long used in Europe and Canada to enter the US market.
In keeping with the law, the FDA finalised new sunscreen ingredient guidance in 2016 which outlines how it determines whether a nonprescription sunscreen active ingredient is generally recognised as safe and effective (Grase). This designation is needed to bring a new product to market.
But a coalition of NGOs and industry groups protested against the FDA’s approach. And the ingredient approval backlog remains.
US agency watchdog the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report in November, reviewing the status of the applications. It found that the FDA was waiting for additional data it had concluded were needed to make the Grase determinations.
But Ken Cook, president of NGO Environmental Working Group (EWG), said Hawaii’s ban could spur action from both the sunscreen industry and the FDA.
"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," said Mr Cook. "Now consumers are forcing change."
In Europe, octinoxate may be used in sunscreen at up to 10% concentration. Last year, the European Commission lowered the maximum concentration for oxybenzone from 10% to 6%.