Sound Science Must Guide Public Policy

Jay M. Ansell, PhD, DABT
VP, Cosmetics Program
Personal Care Products Council

As a scientist, I make up my mind based on the evidence. I may believe something is true, but then I have to put that belief to the test. Sometimes the evidence will show I was right. Other times, no matter how compelling or convenient my belief may be, if the evidence does not agree, then I have to change my mind. At the end of the day, the best decision-making is informed by facts, not opinions, beliefs or speculation.

The need for science to guide policy discussions is critical, and in the case of efforts to ban the sale and use of some sunscreens as a way to prevent damage to coral reefs, we have a good example of why science should inform public policy. Policymakers in Hawaii and Florida have recently passed legislation based on the speculation certain sunscreen ingredients harm coral reefs, while ignoring the proven benefits of sunscreens, potentially endangering the health of people visiting their beaches and living in their communities.

We know the greatest risk to coral reefs, and it is not people wearing sunscreen at the beach. The clear scientific consensus is that the chief cause of coral reef decline is increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change, in combination with overfishing and water pollution from wastewater treatment plants, agricultural runoff, industrial discharges and other sources. By supporting misguided bans on the sale and use of these sunscreens, policymakers are diverting people from finding real solutions while jeopardizing public health.

Medical, scientific and public health experts all agree using sunscreen is a critical part of an overall sun safety regimen. Unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a known cause of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than five million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year—more than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one person dies from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every hour, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

So, if we care about protecting public health and the coral reefs, there are steps we can take right now to make a difference.
Here’s what the personal care products industry is doing to address climate change, the chief cause of coral reef decline:

  • Reducing Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions – More than two thirds of Personal Care Products Council member companies are actively managing energy use and carbon emission from their operations. Many companies support the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
  • Water Conservation and Management – Many companies have set ambitious public targets to reduce water consumption, increase water reuse and improve overall water efficiency in operations.
  • Zero Waste – Several companies are leading the way when it comes to achieving the goal of creating zero waste in their production and supply chain – from product design, manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain decisions to waste management and recycling considerations.

Every consumer can play a role to play too — small scale changes can make a big difference. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, here’s what you can do every day:

  • Take care of your trash. If you take it to the beach, be sure to take it home – especially plastic. And don’t forget the three R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle).
  • Minimize use of fertilizers. Nutrients in fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorus) can runoff and get into waterways and eventually end up in oceans, where they degrade water quality.
  • Reduce stormwater runoff. Homeowners can install water catchments or rain gardens and use rain barrels to collect rainwater that would otherwise be diverted to storm drains, which eventually flow from our waterways into the ocean.
  • Use environmentally-friendly modes of transportation. Using cleaner transportation methods can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to ocean acidification and increased ocean temperature.

We all share the goal of protecting the Earth’s treasures, including the coral reefs, while addressing climate change and water quality issues. Let’s focus on solutions that target the real problems and not let ourselves be distracted by proposals that do nothing to help—and in fact could cause real harm.