Need To Buy Sunscreen in Hawaii? Expect Limited Choices Soon

Wearing sunscreen, especially when visiting Hawaii, is a no-brainer, right? So, what if I told you wearing the wrong suscreen can actually be harmful to the Hawaii environment?

Turns out, there’s new evidence the chemicals used in many sunscreens could be contributing to the ongoing problem of coral bleaching, which can damage Hawaii reefs and those worldwide.

Now, at least one Hawaii legislator wants to ban the sale of sunscreens that use the chemicals in Hawaii. According to Fox News, Hawaii State Senator Will Espero proposed a bill last month to ban the sale of “reef-unfriendly” sunscreens in the Aloha State.

According to Fox News, if passed, the legislation will take effect in July 2018, and those caught selling sunscreen in Hawaii that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate could face misdemeanor charges (sunscreens containing the chemicals would still be available under medical prescription, according to the proposed legislation). That means visitors are unlikely to find ANY chemical sunscreens on the shelves.

The chemicals in some sunscreens cause coral bleaching, which is not only harmful to the coral, but also harmful to the ocean environment.

Espero argued that such a ban on chemical sunscreen in Hawaii would help preserve Hawaii’s tourism industry, which relies heavily upon visitors to its coral reefs.

Fourteen thousand tons of sunscreen wind up in global coral reefs each year, according to a study published in the “Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.” The same study found that oxybenzone, an active ingredient in many commercial sunscreens, causes coral bleaching. Some studies suggest one drop is even enough to damage the reefs.

According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, “researchers have found oxybenzone concentrations in some Hawaiian waters at more than 30 times the level considered safe for corals.”


The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that studies have found that oxybenzone, the adverse effects of which are intensified by light, deformed the larval form of coral called planula.

In effect, high concentrations of oxybenzone caused planula to become sterile and eventually encase itself in its own skeleton, creating what scientists have termed “zombie” coral.

While the chemical does not directly kill coral reefs, it can prevent living coral from properly recovering and regenerating.


Of course, the bill isn’t a suggestion to skip SPF on the sunny beaches of Hawaii. After all, there are two kinds of sunblock: Chemical blockers use ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate to absorb UV radiation from the sun, preventing it from causing damage. But physical (or mineral) sunscreens, with ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, block UVA and UVB rays from ever reaching your skin. Dermatologists agree that physical blocks are better for your skin, good for the environment, and work just as well as chemical sunscreens.

Zinc Oxide, contained in many sunscreen, is a physical barrier and not harmful to the environment.

So, what does that mean for the Hawaii environment and visitors who love Hawaii? It means you’ll need to bring your own chemical sunscreen to Hawaii if you insist on using it — or get a prescription from your doctor.

But, it’s important to note that the more coral reefs that are damaged due to coral bleaching, the fewer beautiful coral reef ecosystems you can explore. So, if you enjoy taking a Maui scuba diving tour, a Maui snorkel and kayak, a Manta night snorkel and dive, or a Big Island scuba tour, you’ll want to preserve the coral reefs for future generations.

So, it may be time to switch your sunscreen, help the environment, and perpetuate the beautiful coral reefs in Hawaii. All it takes is a sunscreen switch!