The U.S. Virgin Islands have become the latest tourist destination to ban sunscreens containing chemicals that are thought to cause devastating harm to reef ecosystems. Effective March 30, 2020, the distribution, sale, and possession of sunscreens containing the dangerous ingredients will be banned. People caught with them will be fined $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for any subsequent offenses.
The chemicals in question are oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate, which “devastate coral and marine life and are also known carcinogenic and hormone disruptors in humans,” said Harith Wickrema, who is the president of sustainability nonprofit Island Green Living Association. “Studies have shown that these chemicals are at 40+ times acceptable levels in some territory waters. In addition to environmental and human harm, tourism-based economies will experience financial devastation if coral and marine life die off. The ripple effect would be huge and we need to take action now.”
In February 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that just two of the other 13 active ingredients in sunscreen to be safe and effective: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are both found in mineral sunscreen formulas. Similar bans to the Virgin Islands’ will kick in next year in Key West, Florida, and in Hawaii.
In other places around the world, the Caribbean island of Bonaire will ban the sale of reef-destroying sunscreen beginning in 2021. The archipelago nation of Palau will begin fining businesses caught selling sunscreen with the banned ingredients in 2020. And various hot spots in Mexico are already asking tourists not to use the dangerous chemicals although there’s technically not a ban in place as of yet.
If you’re traveling to any of these destinations, make sure to read labels carefully. Not all sunscreens marked as “natural” really are. Avoid aerosol sprays, and look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients in any sunscreen you purchase.