The full ban takes effect March 30, 2020, with retailers prohibited from importing shipments of sunscreen containing these ingredients after September 30, 2019.
Concerns over the harm many of today’s sunscreens can have on coral reefs have prompted the U.S. Virgin Islands government to ban the importation, sale, and possession of any sunscreen product that contains the active ingredients of oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene. The ban could help the reefs that surround Virgin Islands National Park, Buck Island Reef, and other National Park System reefs there.
In contrast to Hawaii’s “oxybenzone/octinoxate” ban, the Virgin Islands’ ban would begin more than a full year before Hawaii’s ban goes into effect. Additionally, the Virgin Islands’ ban on octocrylene means that only the mineral sunscreen products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be used in the islands. This makes the U.S. Virgin Islands the first jurisdiction that is compliant with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s recognition that only these two mineral ingredients are considered safe and effective over-the-counter sunscreen drugs.
Sunscreen pollution is a symptom of unsustainable tourism. In a single day, hundreds to thousands of beachgoers slathered in sunscreen hit the water, and most of it washes off, polluting that water. Some of the chemicals in sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, can be poisonous to ecosystems such as corals reefs and even those of lakes and rivers. One way of managing this pollution is to restrict sunscreens that contain these chemicals.
In response, businesses within the tourism industry proactively engaged the U.S. Virgin Islands legislature to mitigate sunscreen pollution impacts to coral reef conservation and restoration. Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green Living Association said, “The Caribbean has already lost more than 80 percent of its coral reefs due to a variety of issues. Studies have shown that these sunscreen chemicals are more than 40 times the acceptable levels in some of our bays. Tourism-based economies will experience financial devastation if coral reefs and other marine life cannot recover. The ripple effect would be huge and we need to take action now.”
At Virgin Islands National Park, staff ask that you avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor, “all of which have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels.”
President William Clinton endorsed the ban on oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene during the Clinton Global Initiative Post-Disaster Recovery event in St. Thomas. While holding a tube of mineral sunscreen, Clinton stated: ‘If you are anywhere near an ocean or coral reef, it matters. I’m very proud of the National Park Service for selling this sunscreen. All of you should do what you can to encourage people to provide it.”