Use Reef Safe Sunscreen on Your Hawaii Vacation

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

There are Many Reasons to Use Reef Safe Sunscreen during Your Hawaii Vacation

Your favorite sunscreen brands may soon be illegal in Hawaii. More than 3,500 products use an ingredient called oxybenzone, a common element in many sunscreen products that helps block harmful UV rays. In early May 2018, the Hawaii State Legislature passed the Hawaii Senate Bill 2571, which aims to ban the sale of these products in the state, and forwarded it to Governor David Ige for approval.

Oxybenzone, while highly effective at filtering UV rays when applied topically, has been linked to coral bleaching, which is extremely harmful to coral reefs. 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 leave them without a food source.

Because an estimated 400 different fish live within Hawaii’s coastal water – and many of them rely on the coral reef ecosystems to survive – there’s a huge environmental argument to be made regarding the use of reef safe sunscreen in Hawaii.

However, some industry groups aren’t convinced. The bill would ban nearly 70% of the sunscreen products available today and require a doctor’s prescription to use sunscreens containing oxybenzone. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association argues that skin cancer prevention efforts could be severely affected by the bill. “The health, safety and welfare of millions of Hawaii residents and tourists has been severely compromised,” the group told the Washington Post. Skin cancer is among the most common forms of cancer in the United States, so excessive sun exposure is a very real problem as well.

Reef Safe Sunscreen Recommendations and Other Alternatives

Companies like Stream2Sea, Ao Organics, and Hawaiian Sol offer reef-safe sunscreen products that can be found at stores throughout Hawaii. These products have a variety of reef friendly ingredients and they tend to work well 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. It’s also wise to avoid sunscreen sprays, which tend to end up in the air and on the sand more than on your skin.

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 swimming in one of the sensitive reef environments around Hawaii.

If you will please consider using some of these 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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