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Palau is the first country in the world to ban all active sunscreen ingredients and preservatives known or suspected to be reef-toxic.

In 2018, President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., of the Republic of Palau, signed The Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018 into law, which prohibited sunscreens containing ten ingredients from being imported, distributed, sold, manufactured, or brought into the Republic starting January 1st, 2020. Pursuant to that law, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism has just promulgated new regulations that tighten existing restrictions on sunscreens by adopting a precautionary approach that bans all active sunscreen ingredients and preservatives known or suspected to be reef-toxic.

The adoption of these Regulations Prohibiting Reef-Toxic Sunscreens strengthens a national standard that was already the strictest in the world by, among other things, adding to the list of banned ingredients in the regulations. The updated list substantially increases the number of banned ingredients and, as of the time of adoption, essentially limits legal sunscreens to those that exclusively use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients and do not contain parabens, triclosan, triclocarban, or phenoxyethanol. These additions to the list of banned ingredients align with a determination made last year by the US Food and Drug Administration that of the currently marketed active ingredients in the United States, only zinc oxide and titaniumdioxide are “generally regarded as safe and effective” for use in sunscreens.

The new regulations also adopt a groundbreaking regulatory approach for sunscreens based on the precautionary principle. Instead of waiting for scientific studies to conclusively prove an ingredient is reef-toxic before banning it, MNRET has decided to prohibit any sunscreen ingredient suspected of being reef-toxic. Furthermore, to ensure that the new regulations remain responsive to scientific advancements, MNRET may also amend the list to remove banned ingredients if scientific research studies definitively reveal that ingredients prohibited by these regulations are not reef-toxic.

Apart from contributing to the protection of the Palau’s pristine environment, theseregulations further establish Palau as a destination that educates tourists about responsible tourism and the protection of the environment.

Craig Downs, executive director at the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Hawaii, said other nations would be watching Palau’s move to ban toxic sunscreens closely. ‘It’s the first country to ban these chemicals from tourism. I think it’s great, they’re being proactive,’ he said. ‘They don’t want to be like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, where they’ve had to shut down beaches. The coral reefs around those beaches have died.’ The sunscreen ban follows the closure of Maya Beach in Thailand and Borocay Bay in the Philippines, where mass tourism has had a severely detrimental effect on the local environment.

Visitors to Palau must sign the Palau Pledge stamped into their passports.

Anyone importing or selling banned sunscreen from that date faces a $1,000 fine, while tourists who bring it into the country will have it confiscated. ‘The power to confiscate sunscreens should be enough to deter their non-commercial use, and these provisions walk a smart balance between educating tourists and scaring them away,’ said President Remengesau, after the ban was announced.

This new law is part of the Palau Responsible Tourism Policy Framework which requires that all visitors to Palau ‘become part of the solution to the environmental challenges in our pristine paradise.’ Starting from 1 January 2020, this new law will ban the sale and use of all sunscreen  and skincare products, including sunscreens, shampoos, moisturizers, liquid soaps, and hair conditioners that contain the following ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3)
  • Octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate)
  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor
  • Methyl paraben
  • Ethyl paraben
  • Butyl paraben
  • Benzyl paraben
  • Triclosan
  • Phenoxyethanol
Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, and 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor are all Sun Protection Factor (SPF) chemicals. The four parabens, triclosan, and phenoxyethanol are antimicrobial preservatives used in sunscreens, shampoos, moisturizers, liquid soaps, and hair conditioners.

These chemicals are known environmental pollutants and are incredibly toxic to juvenile stages of many wildlife species, including corals, fish, macroalgae and even people. Most of them are ‘endocrine disruptors’, chemicals that interfere with the distribution of hormones throughout living organisms.

The worst offenders are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. These chemicals are responsible for absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet light and provide the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) in sunscreens. Over a dozen different scientific studies have shown that Oxybenzone, in particular, can have a devastating effect on marine life. It can cause corals to become more susceptible to bleaching, can damage the DNA of the coral and deform and kill juvenile corals.

Oxybenzone has also been documented to turn adult male fish into female fish and cause developmental defects in young fish. Oxybenzone is toxic to shrimp, sea urchins, bivalves (scallops, mussels) and especially toxic to marine algae. It may also be responsible for fertility problems in adult human males, endometriosis in women, and has been associated with problems in human foetal development.

The effect of just a tiny amount of Octinoxate on coral after only 14 days (Photo: www.haereticus-lab.org)

At Stream2Sea, we are proud to offer the only mineral based sunscreen on the planet that’s been tested and proven safe for freshwater fish, saltwater fish, and coral larvae, AND has passed the stringent HEL Labs Protect Land and Sea certification. Stream2Sea may be located in Florida, but it was conceived in Palau, and we couldn’t be more proud of their progress towards a future with healthy coral and clean oceans.