Skin Deep

Not all dermatologists on board with Key West sunscreen ban

A man applies sunscreen to a woman as they visit the beach during Memorial Day weekend on May 26, 2019 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Sunscreens that contain the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate were recently banned by the city of Key West, over concerns about the ingredients hurting the coral reefs.
A man applies sunscreen to a woman as they visit the beach during Memorial Day weekend on May 26, 2019 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Sunscreens that contain the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate were recently banned by the city of Key West, over concerns about the ingredients hurting the coral reefs. Getty Images

You have likely seen the recent articles and posts outlining the approved ban of popular chemical sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate in Key West. While a similar ban was proposed in Miami Beach, it did not go through.

This issue has created a divide among researchers, doctors, and consumers alike. While many argue that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that these ingredients likely damage coral reefs, others state that more research needs to be done before large-scale bans are imposed.

The aim of this article is to provide brief background information on each side of the argument, as well as share the insights of native Miamian and Immediate Past President of the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery Dr. Andrew Weinstein, with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing these issues.

Why the ban passed in the Keys, and why it failed in Miami Beach

In February, the Key West City Commission voted to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. The reasoning behind this 6-1 vote was based on preliminary research stating that these two ingredients contribute to coral reef bleaching. This follows similar bans of the same ingredients in Hawaii, Bonaire and Palau.

However, Weinstein and other dermatologists worry that such a ban may be premature and could be damaging to the health and potentially lives of many humans living in or traveling to these areas. Additionally, many call for additional testing and research, as there appears to be gaps in current evidence.

“While sunscreen does not cause the death of coral, it does prevent death in people,” says Weinstein. “Decades of science and published studies tell us that regular sunscreen use reduces skin cancer risk. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be as many as 5.4 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer – that is more than 10,000 new cases every day.”

Weinstein argues that bans such as those imposed in the Florida Keys and Hawaii make sunscreen out to be the enemy and limit the choices available to the public. With limited options, the general public may be much more likely to skip sunscreen altogether — a potentially deadly mistake.

“There is no correlation between measured sunscreen levels in the water and actual coral bleaching,” Weinstein said. “Some of the most devastated reefs have never had visitors, [whereas] some of the most visited reefs – ones that Dr. Downs measured his highest level of oxybenzone — have no bleaching. Dr. Downs’ findings do not comport with the standard methods, where samplings are compared.”

What you need to know

For now, more research is needed to determine the effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on wildlife and other organisms.

If you are concerned about potential damage to coral reefs or other reported side effects of certain ingredients in chemical sunscreens, choose a physical sunscreen that uses zinc oxide as its active ingredient. Zinc is a mineral that works by creating a physical barrier between your skin and UV light and is not absorbed into your skin.

If you need added SPF, you can use a chemical sunscreen on your face and physical SPF on larger areas like your arms, legs, and torso. I recommend that children under ten years old use physical sunscreen, as well as babies six months and older when exposed to the sun.

This is a hot-button topic right now, with passionate and well-meaning arguments on both ends. We will continue to learn and hopefully adapt local laws and regulations to reflect the latest science on this matter.

For the latest updates and research on this matter, as well as additional skincare tips, follow Baumann Cosmetic on YouTube, or follow @BaumannCosmetic on Instagram or Facebook.

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