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Florida Might Require Prescription Sunscreen In Order To Save The Coral Reefs

Florida is battling the constant threat of climate change with a new proposed law that might require a prescription in order for people to buy certain sunscreens.  The law is in a greater effort to protect Florida’s marine life and its dying coral reefs. The “American Great Barrier Reef” is located on the coast of the Florida Keys and is the planet’s third largest coral reef ecosystem. Climbing ocean temperatures have been devastating the reef, causing massive amounts of coral bleaching to occur. Over a third of the reef has already died, causing a decrease in marine life as well. The Florida Aquarium did recently discover a way to regenerate coral pillars in a lab setting, which is an amazing accomplishment that will ultimately help regenerate what was lost. However, as climate change continues to be a problem, the dying reefs will still be in grave danger, Florida legislators are doing everything they can to slow that process until the world catches up and helps the planet, which now includes requiring a prescription to buy sunscreen.

Not all sunscreens would require a prescription, in the proposed bill from Senator Linda Stewart, all sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals found in most sunscreens and are key in protecting against UV radiation. However, they also are being proven to contribute to coral bleaching and thus killing marine life vital to Florida’s ecosystems. The reefs of the world are extremely important to all ecosystems of life, not just the ones living in the reefs themselves.

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral reefs are “natural protection for coastlines, absorbing 97% of a wave’s energy to prevent erosion and potential property damage incurred from currents and storms.” In addition, coral reefs hold 25% of all marine life, losing them is losing a quarter of all ocean life, a reality that’s seeming more and more likely every day.  

While sunscreen may not be the main or biggest cause of the destruction of the reefs, it definitely is a major contributing factor. The NOAA reported that the combination of ocean pollution, which sunscreen is technically categorized under, and rising ocean temperatures has already wiped out 30% of the planet’s reefs. The organization also recommends you look for “reef safe” sunscreens, which is just any sunscreen not containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The proposed bill has already been approved in Hawaii which has so far been acting as the “guinea pig” of this law. Many individuals are concerned for a multitude of reasons about what will happen if this bill passes, including the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). 

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The AAD has been very outspoken against this bill including when it passed in Hawaii, their main concern lies in skin cancer rates increasing even more drastically than they already have. According to CNN, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. There were 66,000 new cases of skin cancer in 2009 which increased to more than 82,000 by 2016. Florida alone has the second highest rate for skin cancer due to its proximity to the equator, (CNN). However, many individuals aren’t concerned so much with a potential lack of sunscreen choices, but more so how their current sunscreens have been affecting them. If those chemicals are strong enough to bleach coral, what are they doing to your body? 

Legislators and the Food and Drug Administration both have come forward as these laws have gained traction, and stated that there’s no evidence proving oxybenzone and octinoxate are harmful to humans, however, there’s never been any real in depth research done on the two chemicals, so no one really knows. The FDA is recommending that regardless of your stance on this sunscreen bill, you make sure you have a sunscreen that at least contains Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. In the meantime, they will be performing extensive tests on twelve different sunscreen ingredients, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, to truly determine all the effects of the chemicals.