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Hawaii Sunscreen Ban: Important Updates to Know About

The Hawaii sunscreen ban prohibits ingredients that can harm or kill coral reefs. Here's why that's important for people and the planet.

Written by
Rachel Liu

What bleaches coral reefs and disrupts the ecosystems of your favorite beach destinations? Sunscreen. That’s right: Like Britney’s 2003 hit song, your sunscreen might be toxic to ocean life—and Hawaii is making waves in its mission to ban harmful chemicals for good.

Here's everything you should know about the history of the Hawaii sunscreen ban, why it's important, and how it's benefiting the planet.

Why the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban Is Important

Coral reefs are in serious danger, with some experts predicting up to 90% will disappear within the next 20 years. While factors like warming oceans and pollution play a role, sunscreen does as well.

Millions of tourists enjoy the beaches of Hawaii every year, not thinking about the harmful ingredients in their sunscreen. Unfortunately, many options on store shelves still contain chemical compounds that can cause the complete bleaching of coral reefs. Coral bleaching is detrimental to marine ecosystems, people, and the planet.

That's why prohibiting certain ingredients in sunscreens is so important. Thanks to these bans, harmful ingredients will no longer make their way into Hawaii's beautiful water.

The History of the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban

2018: The Ban of Oxybenzone and Octinoxate

In 2018, Hawaii was the first state to ban sunscreen that could wreak havoc on the environment. The bill officially went into effect on January 1, 2021, and prohibits sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are toxic to coral when it washes off your body and goes into the ocean.

It's not just coral that's being affected by these sunscreen chemicals, either. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around 25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs at some point in their lives. Fish, sea anemones, clams, seahorses—you name it. "Sunscreen pollution can impact not just coral, but potentially all of the organisms on a coral reef," said Downs. Once their habitats are destroyed, these animals’ lives are irrevocably changed.

2021: The Ban of Avobenzone and Octocrylene

In 2021, Hawaii built upon the initiative to ban even more toxic chemicals with Senate Bill 132. Following the 2018 bill that banned oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens, the updated Hawaii sunscreen ban prohibits avobenzone and octocrylene. If enacted into law, it would go into effect on January 1, 2023, preventing the sale of sunscreens that contain those chemicals.

"This is great news for our imperiled coral reefs and marine life," said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. "People can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals while Hawai‘i protects public and environmental health."

Inspired by Hawaii, other places like Aruba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands, and Key West have all passed their own sunscreen bans. So the next time you go on vacation, be sure to find a reef-safe sunscreen that protects both your skin and the environment.

How to Select a Reef-Safe Sunscreen

We have a guide on shopping for reef-safe sunscreens here. To get you started, choose from one of the Brightly team's go-to options below.

Aside from being 100% reef-safe, this sunscreen is also paraben-free and sulfate-free. It also comes in recyclable packaging, keeping waste out of oceans and the landfill.

This sunscreen is a little pricey, but it's worth it. Aside from protecting your skin, it also has an unbeatable jasmine scent that's nothing short of a mood-booster.

This sunscreen is ultra-nourishing with a formula that contains coconut oil, jojoba oil, and aloe vera. Extra bonus: It's great for all skin types—dry, oil, blemish-prone, and beyond.