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Sunscreen Ban? What Beach Bums Need to Know This Summer

Vacation Destinations Ban Chemical Sunscreens

If you’re headed to a distant beach this summer, you might want to check your bag. Many Mexican vacation spots already ask tourists to use natural rather than the chemical sunscreens. Four more popular vacation destinations are the process of banning chemical sunscreens:

Hawaii (2021)
Key West, Florida (2021)
Bonaire (2021)
Palau (2020)

Why Is Sunscreen Being Banned?

Other locales are likely to follow this trend. It’s not because sunscreens are dangerous to humans. Instead they’re damaging coral reefs which are already struggling to survive. Researchers have found that chemical, non-biodegradable sunscreens cause bleaching, which is a whitening of coral tissues and eventual death. It also affects anemones and other creatures living on coral reefs. The sunscreen substance being banned is oxybenzone. It’s what you find in chemical sunscreens which absorb light and prevent harmful rays from sinking into the skin.

Alternatives to Chemical Sunscreens

Instead, vacationers – and anyone concerned about oxybenzone’s impact on the environment – should choose sunscreens which are considered natural and physically block harmful rays. These sunscreens contain titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Also called sun blocks, both substances reflect the sun’s rays so they are not absorbed in the skin. These are widely available commercially under several brand names.

The only drawback to natural sunscreen is it can leave a white film on your skin, depending on the brand. As a dermatologist who treats skin cancers, I say: Who cares! When you’re out in the sun, it’s better to look protected. Remember, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

To those considering indoor tanning be prepare for a tropical vacation, please reconsider. More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking. Those who have ever tanned indoors have a 67% increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. If you’re looking for sunscreen alternatives, you may have run across sunscreen pills. While supplements containing Polypodium leucotomos can help prevent sun damage from UV rays, they are in no way a substitute for sunscreen.

How To Prevent Skin Cancer

Good sun habits are still the best approach for preventing skin cancers:

  1. Avoid sun peak hours (10 am to 2 pm).
  2. Sit in the shade.
  3. Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  4. Use physical protection such as swim shirts that are 60 SPF and clothing with sunscreen factor built in.
  5. Download an app to keep track of UV levels throughout the day.

If you have kids, consider Australia’s SunSmart approach. It’s been successful in reducing skin cancers because it teaches healthy habits starting at a young age:

  1. Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  2. Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
  3. Slap on a hat - broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears.
  4. Seek shade.
  5. Slide on some sunglasses – look for lenses that absorb 95% of UV radiation.
Christopher Huerter, MD
Christopher Huerter, MD

Chris Huerter, MD is a Dermatologist with CHI Health.

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