News Alert

Hawaii’s sunscreen ingredient ban: how will it impact sun care provision in the USA?

On January 1, 2021, the US state of Hawaii plans to ban the sale, offer of sale, or distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider. The motivation behind the ban is the preservation of marine ecosystems in the Pacific Ocean.1

The decision has polarized opinion among a wide range of interest groups, but with this new legislation due to take effect in 2020, sun care stakeholders need to be prepared. Moreover, as oxybenzone and octinoxate are used in many of the most popular sunscreen products on the US market (sold by US and international brands), the decision is already affecting the industry.

To review the ban’s immediate impact on sun care stakeholders, in particular brand owners, ingredient manufacturers and sun care consumers, Silke Adamietz, DSM’s Marketing Communications Manager, invited representatives from the company’s Regulatory, Marketing and R&D departments to discuss the issues. Here’s what they had to say:

Thank you all for taking the time to chat. What challenges has DSM identified on the US sunscreen market?

Dr. Jochen Klock, Senior Global Regulatory and Quality Manager at DSM: In the USA, sunscreens and their actives are regulated by the FDA as OTC drugs. Only 16 different UV-filter actives are registered and not all combinations are approved. This is a challenge for manufacturers for several reasons: some filters are more effective against UV-B and others against UV-A, but both functions are needed for a broad-spectrum claim and efficient sun protection. And to complicate matters further, filters suitable for sprays might not be suitable for creams, and a combination of several filters is needed to reach a high SPF number.

Silke: It sounds like achieving the right balance is pretty tough already. How will the ban on certain sunscreen ingredients affect the current situation?

Jochen: That’s right, it is. The limited number of approved filters and combinations in the US already restricts flexibility to fulfill all aspects of UV protection and cater for sensory issues. I’m concerned that the ban in Hawaii will reduce the choice our customers have when developing safe and effective sunscreens for consumers and that it will make it difficult to maintain SPF levels at current standards. DSM’s understanding is that the ban is also affecting customers’ choices for the USA overall as companies may not want to introduce additional Hawaii-specific formulas.

Silke: Given that the choice of ingredients is already limited for US sunscreen producers, what do you think consumers will make of the ban?

Jürgen Vollhardt, Head of Science and Promotion R&D Sun Care at DSM: All over the globe, we are noticing that consumers have an increasingly strong desire to reduce the negative impact of their behavior on the environment, and to preserve our world for all living creatures - and rightly so. In my view, the Hawaiian ban will be taken very seriously, and not only in the state of Hawaii.

Silke: I see. Is there not a risk that consumers will avoid sunscreens completely?

Jürgen: If you look at online discussion forums, you will see that some consumers support this notion. I am shocked and worried when I hear of recommendations not to use sunscreens at all. This is particularly risky in places such as Hawaii and many other beach locations globally. Skin cancer rates were on the rise before the ban was announced, my fear is that the new law could make this situation even worse. Compliant formulas will definitely be created for Hawaii – DSM already has suggestions in its portfolio – and lower SPF factors will eventually be added to the range. The absurdity is that consumers now need to apply a low SPF product twice within 5 minutes to achieve suitable protection throughout the day for such a high UV index location.

Mineral sunscreens are also a popular choice. For kids (and playful adults) there are colored sunscreens that give extra protection for super-exposed spots, such as the nose and cheeks. The color has the added benefit of making them look like beach warriors.

Silke: But if sunscreen continues to be used at today’s levels, won’t it harm the environment? What does DSM plan to focus on here?

Jochen: All our sunscreen filters undergo strict review to make sure they comply with all legal requirements and the highest quality standards.  And at DSM, we pay close attention to the impact our operations and products have on the environment and society as a matter of routine. That’s why we take part in various independent assessments that are reported on publicly. We are absolutely committed to controlling and minimizing any adverse effects and all possible safety risks that our products could pose for human or animal health, and the environment, throughout the value chain.

Madina Sautova, Head of Global Marketing Communications Personal Care & Aroma at DSM: But we need to look at the bigger picture as well. As much as DSM thinks that a personal or even a corporate contribution to environmental protection is essential to maintain and improve the quality of life for all species on the planet, we can’t ignore the fact that skin cancer figures are on the rise, especially in the USA. Consumer education on skin cancer prevention is a major focus for DSM. We launched our SAFER UNDER THE SUN™ initiative because sun protection has yet to become a healthy, daily habit. We will continue to raise awareness of the risks and encourage the use of sunscreen as an important component of a daily sun protection strategy.

Silke: The ban has the stated objective of preserving the marine environment. Are these sunscreen ingredients the only possible causes of damage?

Jürgen: Well the scientific data point to rising water temperatures and pollution from waste water streams as being the key stressors for corals. UNESCO for example published their first global scientific assessment of climate change impacts on World Heritage coral reefs in 20172. This study linked severe and repeated heat stress, as a result of rising ocean temperatures, to coral bleaching at key sites.

What’s more, we also know that coral bleaching takes place in remote reef locations where there is no sunscreen exposure.

Silke: How are you helping your customers prepare for the implementation of the ban in Hawaii?

Caroline Ploton, Head of Global Marketing Photo Protection at DSM: We have already released two Hawaii-compliant ready-to-use formulations to help our customers deal with the ban, even though it does not come into force until 2021. And we are also working closely with our customers to support them in reformulating their sunscreens, so that consumers still benefit from efficient sun protection. We provide access to our SUNSCREEN OPTIMIZER™, an online UV-filter screening and combination tool that can be used to easily and efficiently reformulate sunscreen formulations. This tool is versatile enough to incorporate the constraints of the ban and shows customers which combinations are Hawaii-compliant.

As well as providing solutions and formulation advice based on sunscreen technologies available today, DSM has also got its eye on the future.  We will continue to innovate and develop solutions that offer improved protection, sensory qualities, and environmental performance.

Silke: And when it comes to environmental concerns, what does DSM anticipate happening in the coming years?

Jochen: As the AADA3, CHPA, and PCPC4 have said in various statements, the proposed ban is based on insufficient scientific evidence. In the European Union, authorities have requested that further studies addressing environmental issues be conducted over the coming years under European Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (REACH). This should provide a comprehensive overview for environmental risk assessment.

We are keen to reassure our customers that as well as pro-actively providing solutions, we are staying abreast of developments and will share any new information as soon as it becomes available. Environmental safety is a priority for DSM, but we are equally committed to promoting health and preventing skin cancer. We will therefore continue to assess and monitor our impact and are also keen to engage in constructive dialogue – provided that this is based on sound scientific evidence.

Silke: Thank you all for taking the time to talk to us today.

2 Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Coral Reefs, A First Global Scientific Assessment: UNESCO June 2017