Political Turmoil Surrounds Key West Sunscreen Ban

State and local lawmakers are at odds

Key West
Key West's sunscreen ban has become an unlikely political flashpoint.
Rodney Oliver/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / November 10, 2019 6:15 am

Wearing sunscreen when you’re on the beach is an important part of keeping your skin healthy. But wearing sunscreen can also damage coral reefs. It’s one of those moral conundrums that can give you a headache if you spend too much time thinking about it. This has led some regions to ban sunscreens that contain ingredients that can wreak havoc around coral: Hawaii is one prominent example.

Key West is as well — but that ban has now wound up at the center of a political controversy. Earlier this year, a ban was voted into law. But now, as Richard Luscome at The Guardian reports, Republican lawmakers at the state level are working to overturn the city’s ban. “In effect,” Luscombe writes, “the debate has become one of protecting coral reefs versus preventing skin cancer.”

State senator Rob Bradley has cited Florida’s high rates of melanoma cases as one reason to overturn the sunscreen ban. Luscombe writes that “products by Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat and Coppertone” would all be affected by it.

That said, there are other sunscreens out there that don’t involve the controversial ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. And there’s larger momentum within the industry to move away from those ingredients, with CVS in particular taking steps to phase them out of their own products.

Though for some, the “reef-safe” designation applied to certain sunscreens doesn’t go far enough — making an ethically and environmentally fraught issue even more complex.

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