Florida’s Key West bans sunscreen ingredients that scientists say contribute to coral reef ‘bleaching’

Sunscreens that contain two specific chemicals will soon no longer be sold in Key West, Florida, as scientists have said they likely contribute to what is known as coral reef “bleaching.”

The Key West City Commission, in a 6-1 vote Tuesday, voted to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are typically used to block the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

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Officials hope the ban will protect and preserve the only living coral reef in North America, the Miami Herald reported.

The law takes effect on Jan 1, 2021. That’s the same day a similar law in Hawaii — the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the two ingredients, according to the publication — also begins.

Coral bleaching, according to the National Ocean Service, happens when corals are “stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients.” As a result, it expels “symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.”

Aside from bleaching, researchers also say the chemicals lead to DNA damage and death of the corals.

The vote followed an hour of public comment, with almost every speaker supporting the ban. But Commissioner Greg Davila dissented, saying residents should have the choice of sunscreens they want to use.

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Dermatologists and industry lobbyists, too, were largely against the ban. They argued that banning the sunscreens could dissuade the use of the product altogether and ultimately lead to an increase in skin cancer rates, the Miami Herald reported.

The banned chemicals — specifically oxybenzone — are found in the majority of sunscreens sold in the U.S., NPR reports, noting that includes sunscreens made by popular brands such as Neutrogena and Aveeno.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.