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Point of View: Chemical sunscreen ingredients are not safe for consumers or the environment

Palm Beach Post - 8/18/2019

Throughout this century, sunscreens with chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate dominated the market. With the advent of sprays with ever-increasing SPF values, consumers believed they were protected from the sun's harmful rays. That belief was misplaced.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that from 2001 to 2016, the age-adjusted rate of skin melanomas increased 31%, from 17 to 22.3 cases per 100,000. Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that chemical sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Scientists and industry have known since 1995 that oxybenzone can pollute a woman's breastmilk, and that the chemical pollutants can be transferred from mother to infant (even in dolphins). One of the most widely-used chemical sunscreen ingredients -- oxybenzone – is linked to a birth defect (Hirschsprung's Disease), shorter pregnancies in women with male fetuses, changes in infant birth weights, and decreased testosterone levels in boys and men.

The FDA currently is reviewing the status of oxybenzone, octinoxate and the 10 other chemical sunscreen ingredients, which no longer are listed as "Generally Recognized As Safe and Effective." Slowly, the medical profession is updating its sunscreen recommendations. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics now states, "You may want to select a sunscreen that does not contain the ingredient oxybenzone, a sunscreen chemical that may have hormonal properties."

The big fear is that these chemicals are pernicious endocrine disruptors; we don't see their full adverse effects until years later and it's too late to remediate their toxicities.

Chemical sunscreen ingredients also poison the environment. Our laboratory experiments disproved the hypothesis that oxybenzone was safe for coral cells or larvae. Even at very low environmental concentrations, oxybenzone caused a coral disease (bleaching), damaged DNA, killed cells and deformed coral larvae. Field experiments conducted by Italian scientists demonstrated that chemical sunscreens increased viral infections in corals. In fish, oxybenzone and other chemical sunscreens can cause sex changes, turning males into females, as well as cause developmental defects. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers -- the gold standard for scientific research -- show harmful effects of sunscreen chemicals on species ranging from bacteria and algae to dolphins. To protect their valuable marine resources, Palau, Hawaii, Aruba, Bonaire, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the city of Key West are banning the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and other harmful chemical ingredients.

This chemical sunscreen pollution impacts more than our beaches and reefs. These chemicals now pollute our swimming pools, hot tubs, our seafood, the air we breathe, and even our drinking water. Its taint is almost impossible to escape and avoid.

The immediate solution for reducing the rate of skin cancers and helping restore our coral reefs is by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen with the mineral ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The long- term solution requires an educated and discerning consumer, innovation from industry to create verifiably safe products and community leaders to ensure both.

<strong xmlns="http://www.infomaker.se/idf/1.0" id="strong-8716f6f491cb4b71264604e33f7b092d">JOHN E. FAUTH AND CRAIG A. DOWNS, ORLANDO

Editor's note: Fauth, University of Central Florida; Downs, Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, Virginia.

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