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.
The 2018 Ban: 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. “Oxybenzone is really toxic to the juvenile form of corals,” Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist, told CNN. When it washes off your body and into the ocean, the chemicals can cause “bleaching, deformities, DNA damage, and death in coral.”
It’s not just coral that’s being affected by these sunscreen chemicals, either. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around 25 percent of all marine life rely 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.
The New Ban: Avobenzone and Octocrylene
Recently, Hawaii has built upon this initiative to ban even more toxic chemicals. Following the 2018 bill that banned oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens, the new bill bans 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 an eco-friendly sunscreen that protects both your skin and the environment.