Hawaii to ban sale of reef-damaging sunscreens by 2021

Hawaii has passed legislation to ban the sale of sunscreens containing two coral-harming chemicals—oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Senate Bill 2571, introduced by state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei- Makakilo), prohibits the sale and distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. This bill was approved by legislators in May and signed by Hawaii Gov. David Ige 0n July 3. The new law — Act 104 — goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

“Healthy reefs are a fundamental part of a larger ecosystem which is important to the health of our planet. This bill has enormous significance and I’m so happy on behalf of the Senate to be here participating in the signing of this very important bill. Governor, by signing this measure, you are presenting our community with a unique moment in time to protect our coral reefs,” said Sen. Roz Baker

According to the bill, “oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.”

The Business Insider reports, “According to one 2016 study of the effects of sunscreen on reefs in the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, it only takes a tiny bit of oxybenzone to start damaging the DNA of coral and trigger harmful effects. That study found oxybenzone levels in Hawaii were lower than those around the Virgin Islands, but still high enough to cause harm.”

“Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life. Our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawai‘i’s coral reefs,” said Gov. Ige.

Hawaii is looking to take a multi-faceted approach to protect and restore Hawaii’s coral reefs including fighting invasive species, pollution from land runoff and climate change.

“In my lifetime, our planet has lost about half its coral reefs. We’ve got to take action to make sure we can protect the other half as best we can because we know that time is against us,” said Rep. Chris Lee

If visitors do not have reef-safe sunscreens, they can purchase sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate with a prescription or pick them up before traveling to Hawaii.

According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, “the bill was supported by a number of nonprofit environmental groups, as well as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It was opposed by ABC Stores, the Hawaii Medical Association, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, and Personal Care Products Council. Bayer, which manufactures Coppertone sunscreens, also opposed the bill.”

The NY Times reports that the group Retail Merchants of Hawaii has said it’s concerned the ban will discourage people from buying sunscreen at brick and mortar stores. The converse is that all travelers to Hawaii will wait until they arrive to purchase reef-safe options at brick and mortar stores.

If you are motivated by the environmental, and cultural impact of reef, check out this study on the Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands

If you are motivated by the financial implications of reef damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates in this study that Hawaii’s coral reefs are worth $33.57 billion.

Here’s what to use instead:

At the Mullet, we’ve tested and use a number of different Reef-Safe sunscreens. We love Raw Elements and All Good are atop our lists. I use them both and like them so much, we started selling them on the Mullet. If you have a local shop that sells them, buy. But if you can purchase from the Mullet, it’ll help us do what we do. We carry Raw Elements now. We don’t carry All Good yet, but we love them and encourage you to find a store that carries them. We only sell things we love and use. Thank you for your support. 


Senate Bill SB2571 SD2 HD2 CD1

Time: Hawaii Has Banned the Sale of Sunscreens with Coral-Harming Chemicals

USA Today: Hawaii bans sale of sunscreens with coral-harming chemicals

Star Advertiser: Hawaii becomes first state to ban sale of sunscreens with coral-harming chemicals

NY Times: Hawaii Bans Sale of Sunscreens With Coral-Harming Chemicals

2018 briefing from the International Coral Reef Initiative: PDF Download

International Coral Reef Initiative

Business Insider: Here’s why certain sunscreens are so dangerous for coral that Hawaii plans to ban them — and what you should use instead

Total Economic Value for Protecting and Restoring Hawaiian Coral Reef Ecosystems

Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Hawaii.gov Press Release