Hawaii Bans Certain Sunscreens in Order to Save Coral Reef

Hawaii has banned particular types of sunscreen that contain chemicals harmful to coral and other marine life.
Jessica Miley

Hawaii has passed a law banning certain types of sunscreen in an effort to save coral reefs. The new bill will prohibit the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate from 2021.

Hawaiian Governor David Ige signed the bill into law on July 4 saying that they now know these particular sunscreens have a major negative impact on corals and other sea life. "We are blessed in Hawaii to be home to some of the most beautiful and natural resources on the planet but our natural environment is fragile and our own interaction with the earth can have everlasting impacts and this bill is a small step, small first step, worldwide to really caring about our corals and our reefs," he said.

The bill, called SB 2571, was introduced by Senator Mike Gabbard who described it, as “a first-in-the-world law”. Gabbard made the case for the bill explaining that the chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems.”

Big name brands forced to rethink formula

The historic bill means major sunscreen brands like Banana Boat will need to rethink their formula if they want to stay on the shelves in Hawaii. State Rep. Chris Lee (D) said in a statement responding to the new bill, “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.”


The prohibited sunscreens will still be able to be purchased by individuals who have been medically prescribed those sunscreens but otherwise, the creams won’t be on shelves. Sunscreen damages the reefs when it washes off people swimming in the ocean.

The chemicals from the washed off sunscreen find themselves on the sensitive coral causing severe damage. The bill describes the process: "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. These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals. Furthermore, oxybenzone and octinoxate appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption."

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Big name opposition doesn't disway focused senators

The bill had some vocal opposition including the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the Hawaii Medical Association, the Hawaii Food Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, the Personal Care Products Council and Bayer, which manufactures sunscreens by Coppertone. Bayer said it would comply with the ban but was clearly opposed to the idea saying in a statement that “eliminating the use of sunscreen ingredients considered to be safe and effective by the FDA with a long history of use not only restricts consumer choice, but is also at odds with skin cancer prevention efforts. What has been scientifically proven is that exposure to UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer. And sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from UV exposure, in addition to wearing protective clothing, sunglasses and staying in the shade.”

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association made it very clear how it felt saying “the health, safety and welfare of millions of Hawaii residents and tourists has been severely compromised” by the new law. It says SB 2571, which aims to ban “at least 70 percent of the sunscreens on the market today, based on weak science blaming sunscreens for damage to coral reefs.”