In November, a Maui Hawaii County Council committee introduced and recommended for approval a bill for an ordinance that would prohibit the sale and use of sunscreen containing the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients are commonly used in commercial chemical sunscreens as protection against ultraviolet (UV) light radiation. The county-level move came after Senate Bill 1150 – introduced in 2017 by Hawaii Senator Will Espero to ban the use and application of sunscreens containing oxybenzone throughout the state of Hawaii – stalled at the end of the legislative session.
The FDA currently approves of only 16 active ingredients for use in over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreens, generally recognizing them as safe and effective. Among the ingredients are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are commonly found in commercial sunscreen products, including from major sunscreen brands such as L’Oreal, Neutrogena and Supergoop. The European Union already imposes strict limits on the use of oxybenzone in sunscreen products as well as warning requirements.
The Maui County proposal was prompted by environmental concerns and intended to promote the health and welfare of Maui’s coral reefs and marine life. The bill’s supporters claim that oxybenzone and octinoxate have a significant impact on the marine environment, noting that both ingredients have been detected in the ocean surrounding Maui at levels that well exceed the toxicity range for coral reefs. Opponents of the ban, on the other hand, contend that the ingredients are safe for use, as they have been approved for use by the FDA.
The proposal to ban sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate, other than prescription products, is now before the full Maui County Council. If approved, manufacturers, retailers and distributors of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate would have a year to ensure that their products no longer contain the banned ingredients. Businesses or persons found in violation of the law would be subject to civil penalties and administrative enforcement procedures. As of now, the bill does not contain a private right of action to allow consumers to bring actions for violations. If passed, Maui’s outright ban could still face enforcement and legal challenges – including state preemption and federal Commerce Clause challenges.
While this is a unique development, local efforts to protect against health and environmental concerns are nothing new, but they do not always remain confined to their original purpose. For example, California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65, was originally passed to protect the state’s drinking water sources from being contaminated with chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. However, Proposition 65 does not act to ban the use of any chemicals; instead, it imposes warning requirements prior to consumer exposure to certain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The 2012 listing of benzophenone to the state’s list of regulated chemicals has already caused many sunscreen manufacturers using octocrylene, another FDA-approved active ingredient that may contain small amounts of benzophenone, to reformulate or use a more purified form of the ingredient.
Conkle, Kremer & Engel has many years of experience representing clients in the beauty and skin care industry address challenging regulatory compliance issues. CK&E attorneys help clients stay out of legal crosshairs by working with them to ensure their products continue to meet all legal requirements, and helping them plan for foreseeable changes in the law.