Palau is a collection of hundreds of coral and volcanic islands about 890 km east of the Philippines and is heavily reliant on tourism revenue. The Pacific Ocean archipelago of Palau is to ban "reef-toxic sunscreens" under the Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018, signed into law by President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr on 25 October. While signing the bill, President Remengesau said it would "invite visitors to be part of the solution".
Starting January 1 2020, no one will be permitted to bring, buy, sell, import or manufacture products containing these ingredients into the republic. Anybody entering Palau with the prohibited items will have them confiscated. Retailers that violate the law will be subject to a maximum penalty of $1,000 per violation.
Scientists have been raising concerns about the impacts of sunscreen products on marine life for many years. They are particularly worried over the role of two ingredients called oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are used as sun protection factors as they absorb ultraviolet light. Researchers believe that these ingredients are highly toxic to marine life and can make coral more susceptible to bleaching. Research published in 2015 showed that the oxybenzone could stunt the growth of baby corals and was toxic to several different coral species in laboratory tests.
The banned sunscreens are defined as skin-care products sold for topical use containing any of the following ingredients:
- oxybenzone (benzophenone-3)
- octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate)
- enzacamene (4-methyl-benzylidene camphor)
- methyl paraben
- ethyl paraben
- butyl paraben
- benzyl paraben
Environmental Group (EWG) has been publishing a list of the most common active sunscreen filters for many years. While many of these filters cause skin rashes and hormonal changes, most sunscreen manufacturers have yet to change their formulations, rather choosing to eliminate these hazardous filters just before their banned and replace them with other hazardous filters, rather than reformulating to safe sunscreens.
Palau's ban on reef-toxic sunscreens follows in the footsteps of Hawaii, which in July became the first US state to ban the sale or distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Hawaii's ban comes into force in 2021.
Palau's legislation comes after a study on Jellyfish Lake, a Unesco World Heritage site. The study on the accumulation of sunscreen in the endemic golden jellyfish and lake water found the presence of oxybenzone in the water, sediment and jellyfish samples.
The study recommended that visitors only use eco-friendly sunscreens and the said products should not contain the ten ingredients listed above.
Palau's law also sets out that tour operators should provide customers with reusable alternatives to disposable plastic or polystyrene cups, plastic or polystyrene food containers, water bottles and drinking straws. These can either be reusable water dispenser and food containers or reusable individual containers or straws or "other means" which are not specified.
These banned ingredients also effect our health. Consumers need to pay more attention not only to what they put in their bodies, but what they put on their bodies. Our skin absorbs an average of 60% of the cosmetics that we use in our daily regimen.
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