Hawaii Is Banning Popular Sunscreens That Are Killing Coral Reefs

If you plan to slather on some sunscreen the next time you are in Hawaii, you might want to double check the label first. The island state is about to become the first in the nation to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Lawmakers are banning the sale of the products because they are endangering our coral reefs.

According to the bill passed by state legislators in May, these chemicals “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline.” Oxybenzone and octinoxate offer our skin protection from the sun by absorbing harmful UV radiation, according to Scientific America.

However, studies found that these chemical sunblocks can kill developing coral, damage a corals DNA, impair coral reproduction, and promote coral bleaching. 

Between 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen slide off our bodies into the water each year, exposing coral reefs to these harmful side effects. In 2017, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist found that 56 percent of Hawaii’s coral reefs are bleached. Hawaii’s colorful coral reefs are a major tourist attraction, and a vital fixture in the underwater ecosystem. According to the Smithsonian, a quarter of ocean species rely on reefs for food and shelter. 

The law would make it illegal for sale and distribution of the sunscreens, unless they are for prescription use, according to Vox.  

It is also already receiving some pushback from major sunscreen companies. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents sunscreen makers, says that 70 percent of sunscreens in the US market contain oxybenzone. About 8 percent carry octinoxate. Sunscreen companies like Banana Boat and Coppertone, through association, claim that the ban would make it difficult for people to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. 

There are some “reef-friendly” sunscreens out in the market, though. According to Business Insider, you can use “mineral blockers” that will put a physical barrier between the sun and your skin. These can make your skin look really white because they contain zinc, aluminum, and titanium. Imagine the lifeguard nose. Though manufacturer started adding tints and micronizing particles to make the products more sheer Business Insider reports.  

Hawaii’s Governor David Ige is expected to sign the bill sometime this week, and it won’t kick in until around 2021.