Hawaii to Ban Chemical Sunscreens for Coral Reef Protection

Pending gubernatorial approval, effective January 1, 2021, oxybenzone and octinoxate—ingredients found in over 3,500 sunscreens—will be banned in the state of Hawaii. The bill, which is the first of its kind in the U.S. and globally, seeks to protect disappearing coral reefs from the chemicals often found in sunscreen that wash off of skin into the ocean. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Hawaii’s governor, David Ige.

Democratic Senator Mike Gabbard, who first introduced the bill, told The Honolulu Star Advertiser, “Amazingly, this is a first-in-the-world law. Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens. When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow.”

Hawaii’s coral reefs span more than 1,200 miles and account for 85 percent of all coral reefs in the U.S. And although the disappearance of coral reefs can be attributed to larger factors like global climate change, overfishing, sewage and agricultural runoff, research has shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate can damage coral DNA, cause coral to bleach, damage corals’ ability to reproduce and prompt free-swimming coral larvae to excrete a hard skeleton prematurely, entombing themselves.

If the bill passes, mineral sunscreens—such as those that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block the sun’s rays—would remain legal. The suncare product market is expected to reach a value of $13.7 billion by 2024—yet manufacturers will need to prepare for possible reformulation in order to protect the world’s oceans.