Hawaii Sunscreen Ban: These Chemicals in Sunscreen Are Harming Coral Reefs – The Cheat Sheet

Did you know sunscreen poses a more significant threat to coral reefs than climate change? Unfortunately, it’s true. Thanks to harmful chemicals used to block the sun’s damaging UV rays, sunscreen can cause catastrophic damage to some of the Earth’s most beautiful creations. As a result, states such as Hawaii have begun to take action.

Hawaii bans harmful sunscreen chemicals in favor of coral reef protection. | travnikovstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Hawaii sunscreen ban

In May 2018, lawmakers in The Aloha State passed legislation against certain sunscreen chemicals that harm coral reefs. Now, companies such as Coppertone and Banana Boat face one of two options: Do away with their current formulas or stop selling and distributing sunscreen in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Not only will the Hawaiin sunscreen ban help protect Hawaiian coral reefs, but it will also protect coral reefs all over the world as sunscreen formulas begin to comply with regulations. Because, here’s the thing: You don’t need to wear sunscreen in the ocean to threaten coral reefs. Sunscreen chemicals washed off in the shower can travel through sewage systems and end up there, too. In fact, around 14,000 tons of sunscreen — and its chemicals — end up in the ocean’s coral reefs each year and, according to the SB 2571 bill, “these chemicals are not removed by the State’s wastewater treatment system.”

Despite its eco-friendly intentions, not everyone is on board with the SB 2571 bill. Some sunscreen companies are not for the Hawaii sunscreen ban. Also, a handful of dermatologists are opposed to it, too. Skin care experts fear it will discourage sun-worshipers from wearing sunscreen altogether.

These oppositions are not of concern to Governor David Ige, who will sign the bill later this week. If all goes according to plan, Hawaii will become the first state to offer legal protection for marine ecosystems.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreen chemicals are harming coral reefs. | grinvalds / iStock / Getty Images Plus

These chemicals in sunscreen are harming coral reefs

According to the SB 2571 bill, the two chemicals in question are oxybenzone and octinoxate. “The legislature further finds that environmental contamination of oxybenzone and octinoxate persists in Hawaii’s coastal waters, as the contamination is constantly refreshed and renewed every day by swimmers and beachgoers,” the bill reads.


The first chemical seeing its way out is oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is found in over 3,500 products worldwide and has a detrimental effect on coral reefs. Studies show that it can rob coral of its vital nutrients and strip it of its natural bright color, leaving behind a ghostly white color. On top of that, the sunscreen chemical can disrupt fish and other wildlife that thrive in coral reef environments.


In addition to oxybenzone, octinoxate also faces sunscreen extinction. Similar to oxybenzone, octinoxate can cause bleaching, extreme stress, and endocrine disruption in coral reefs.

Why ban oxybenzone and octinoxate?

While protecting marine ecosystems might be a prominent factor, there are a few other reasons Hawaiian officials want to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreen. For one, coral reefs are a major tourist attraction, helping to create jobs and boost the economy in tropical places like Hawaii. In addition, they can provide food and medication, too.

According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, “the value of coral reefs has been estimated at 30 billion U.S. dollars and perhaps as much as 172 billion U.S. dollars each year.”

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