Please Use Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Please Use Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii

Some of the most common sunscreens are now banned from sale in the State of Hawaii, and even more are banned in Hawaii County. Thousands of sun care products use chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone or octinoxate. Unfortunately many common elements used in most sunscreen products have been found to be harmful to reef ecosystems. In 2018, the Hawaii State Legislature passed Hawaii Senate Bill 2571, which bans the sale of sunscreens using specific ingredients in the state as of January 2021.

The County of Hawaii (the Big Island) passed an additional sunscreen law, Bill 167, “allowing only mineral sunscreens to be provided, sold, offered for sale, or distributed in the County.” Big Island’s non-mineral sunscreen ban took effect on December 1, 2022 and prohibits the sale of “any sunscreen that uses an active ingredient other than titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.” Big Island’s law doesn’t specifically ban the “use” of non-mineral sunscreens; but the goal is to eliminate chemical sunscreen use altogether.

Sunscreen chemicals, while effective at filtering UV rays when applied topically, have been linked to coral bleaching, which is extremely harmful to coral reefs and marine environments. Within coral communities live symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae, which provide coral with food via photosynthesis. Oxybenzone, along with a few other common sunscreen ingredients, awaken viruses in the algae, causing them to explode and infect nearby coral reefs. This exposes the coral to direct sunlight and leaves them without a food source.

Thousands of different types of fish and marine animals live within Hawaii’s coastal water – and many of them rely on the coral reef ecosystems to survive, therefore there’s a huge environmental reason to require the use of reef safe sunscreen in Hawaii. The thing most people don’t know about the new regulations is that they ban such a large percentage of the sunscreen products currently on the market. You will want to make sure any sunscreen you buy elsewhere and bring with you to Hawaii is compliant.

Reef Safe Sunscreen Recommendations and Other Alternatives

We’ve tried mineral based products from ThinkSport, CeraVe, Sun Bum, and Blue Lizard that worked well. These products have reef friendly ingredients and they do a good job blocking out harmful UV rays when applied as recommended. It may be a good idea to test a few products at home to make sure you don’t have any reactions to the ingredients and see if one brand works better than another for you.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association notes that skin cancer prevention efforts could be severely affected by sunscreen bans. Skin cancer is among the most common forms of cancer in the United States, so excessive sun exposure is a very real concern as well. That’s why it’s important to find good mineral sunscreens to use when visiting Hawaii and to utilize Swim Shirts when you are spending extended time in the sun or water.

And as always, you can seek out shade and wear sun-protective clothing to protect your skin from UV rays. A wide brimmed hat and a long sleeved Sun Shirt will work wonders, especially if you are at the beach for an extended period or are going snorkeling in one of the sensitive reef environments around Hawaii.

If you will please make sure to use only mineral based, reef safe sunscreen products and practices when you’re visiting Hawaii, our reefs, fish and community will thank you for helping to keep the marine environment safe and keeping harmful chemicals out of the water. Mahalo!

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