Palau strengthens laws limiting sunscreens that can potentially harm reefs

PROTECTING REEFS: Palau's healthy coral reefs feature many vibrant species of hard and soft corals. Post file photo courtesy of Whitney Hoot

Palau's Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism has promulgated new regulations that tighten existing restrictions on sunscreens by adopting a precautionary approach that bans all active sunscreen ingredients and preservatives known or suspected to be reef-toxic.

These new regulations are in line with The Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018, which President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. signed into law in 2018. The act prohibits sunscreens containing 10 ingredients from being imported, distributed, sold, manufactured, or brought into the Republic beginning Jan. 1.

The new regulations "strengthens a national standard that was already the strictest in the world by, among other things, adding to the list of banned ingredients in the regulations," according to a press release from the president's office.

The updated list increases the number of banned ingredients. It limits legal sunscreens to those that exclusively use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients and do not contain parabens, triclosan, triclocarban, or phenoxyethanol. These additions to the list of banned ingredients align with a determination made last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that of the currently marketed active ingredients in the United States, only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are “generally regarded as safe and effective” for use in sunscreens.

"The new regulations also adopt a groundbreaking regulatory approach for sunscreens based on the precautionary principle. Instead of waiting for scientific studies to conclusively prove an ingredient is reef-toxic before banning it, MNRET has decided to prohibit any sunscreen ingredient suspected of being reef-toxic," Palau officials stated. "Furthermore, to ensure that the new regulations remain responsive to scientific advancements, MNRET may also amend the list to remove banned ingredients if scientific research studies definitively reveal that ingredients prohibited by these regulations are not reef-toxic.

"Apart from contributing to the protection of the Palau’s pristine environment, these regulations further establish Palau as a destination that educates tourists about responsible tourism and the protection of the environment," Palau officials added.

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