UV-filter bans clearly set me off – I want to geek out about scalp care, an outlet website, DIY lash extensions, nails, retinoids, hyaluronic acid – but here I am, on another sunscreen tangent. It's sunny-escape season, though; knowing what type of sunscreen you need to pack is relevant right now, so there's that.
Sunscreen bans are... a bit silly. Real-world application of the limited data renders UV-filter restrictions insignificant when it comes to coral reefs. Unfortunately, the bans instead have a significant impact on the misinformation machine, and on how effectively we can protect ourselves from UV radiation.
This post, though, is mostly about keeping you informed about where your choice of sunscreen formula matters in 2023 (so far).
If your favourite sunscreen has non-mineral* or "chemical" filters, you might not be able to take it with you if you're going to Aruba, Palau, parts of the USA or Mexico, to Thailand, or any tourist spot that mandates so-called "reef-safe" formulas.
Not-so-fun fact: "reef-safe" means about as much as "clean beauty." The term isn't official or regulated, and restrictions vary from location to location. More than that, humans wearing sunscreen in the ocean literally has nothing to do with coral-reef bleaching. Carbon dioxide emissions are the actual threat, according to experts in Australia; their research "shows global warming of 1.5°C relative to pre-industrial levels will be catastrophic for almost all coral reefs." The human impact on coral reefs comes from climate change, not sunscreen.
Putting sunscreen in the same hazard category as global warming is absurd, yet here we are. "Every little bit helps," some say, but that isn't the case here. Sunscreen filters make zero coral-health difference in real life, so restricting them helps reefs not at all, not even a little bit.
19 VACATION SPOTS WITH SUNSCREEN-FILTER BANS
Thankfully the list of reef-safe-restricted destinations is still small... for now. Misinformation and misinfomarketing will likely result in additions over the next couple of years, at least, before legislators with critical-thinking skills 🤞🏼 trust scientists who don't profit from "reef-safe" misinformation. Until then, the following locations have enacted UV-filter bans:
- Cancun, Mexico
- Cozumel, Mexico
- Florida Keys, USA
- Hawaii, USA
- Key West, USA
- Lanai, Hawaii, USA
- Marshall Islands
- Maui, Hawaii, USA
- Molokai, Hawaii, USA
- Riviera Maya, Mexico
- Playa del Carmen, Mexico
- St. Croix (USVI)
- St. John (USVI)
- St. Thomas (USVI)
- US Virgin Islands
Yep, some of these places are part of larger regions also listed, not to pad the total number of locations but because the rules differ depending on the area, even within regions. Plus, unless you're a geography major or travel agent, you might not know Cancun is part of the Riviera Maya, or that St. Croix is one of the US Virgin Islands. (I could have added Water Island to make a list of 20, but there are actually 50 minor USVI islands, so I went with the three main players per the tourism site VisitUSVI.com.)
NOT ALL SUNSCREEN FILTER BANS ARE THE SAME
Mexico hasn't technically banned any UV filters, but several popular tourist destinations such as Cozumel and Riviera Maya (which includes Cancun and Playa del Carmen) prohibit "non-biodegradeable" or non-mineral sunscreens. (All sunscreen may be banned where cenote-swimming is concerned, but that's a long-standing and separate issue.)
Some of the listed locations have banned specific UV filters, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, but the Marshall Islands has a blacklist of 28 filter ingredients and 10 preservatives (including parabens and phenoxyethanol), and Thailand has banned all except mineral filters (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).
The USA hasn't banned any sunscreen filters either (although the FDA is awaiting additional data on 16 non-mineral actives, they maintain those filters awaiting further assessment are still "acceptable"), but the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Key West and the US Virgin Islands have implemented their own restrictions... and they vary, even between regions within the same state.
Hawaii, for instance, has a state-wide ban against oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octocrylene; in Hawaii, Maui County (includes islands Lanai and Molokai) now has an almost zero-tolerance approach to the sale, distribution and use of all non-mineral sunscreens. ("Almost" because prescriptions are exempt. Now 🧠 is intrigued with the idea of prescriptions for non-mineral sunscreen – could that become a thing? 🤔)
My geeky side wants very much to post a complete list of which specific UV filters are banned where, but Staff (she's back!) insists it would be too much useless detail in a world already full of complications.
Keep things simple, Staff says: if you're travelling to any area with sunscreen restrictions, mineral sunscreen is your easiest choice. (But if you really need to know that while the state of Hawaii has banned oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octocrylene, the US Virgin Islands has banned "only" oxybenzone, octocrylene and octinoxate, let me know and I'll make that list!)
MINERAL, BUT MAKE IT WATER-RESISTANT
Just make sure you choose water-resistant mineral sunscreen and that you reapply diligently. Mineral UV-filter protection is easier than non-mineral to rub off given that most of the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sits on the skin's surface. Water-resistant formulas should give you an advantage with film-forming ingredients that prevent them from rubbing off too quickly – a claim of water-resistance up to 80 minutes (or up to 40) has to be proven to be put on the packaging.
This IG reel includes two of my favourite water-resistant (up to 80 minutes) high-SPF mineral sunscreen formulas:
Tinted sunscreen shades are often too dark or warm or orangey for my neutral, light complexion; Vichy Ideal Soleil Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 60 ($33.95 CAD at vichy.ca and $29 USD at ulta.com) is a rare perfectly neutral tint, not too warm nor too cool, and never makes skin feel dry. (Might look ashy if you've got a naturally warm complexion, but there's plenty out there for you; no need to try this one.)
Despite having a few mineral-sunscreen favourites, I confess I'm less likely to make plans to visit any area with sunscreen-filter restrictions in place – that kind of legislation just tells me whoever makes those decisions either lacks critical-thinking skills or wants to appear environmentally pro-active without doing the actual work, so I'll just go somewhere else. Harsh? Maybe, but I'm so triggered by misinformation that I can't unthink it.
Oh! Happy new year, by the way! Hope 2023 brings you all the best good things!
OVER TO YOU
Do sunscreen bans bother you at all, or would you just take them in stride when planning a trip?
Do you already use water-resistant mineral sunscreen? If yes, what's your favourite, please??
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