Hawaii became the first state in the nation to ban sales of sunscreens containing chemicals deemed harmful to coral reefs after Gov. David Ige signed a bill into law Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol Rotunda in Honolulu.
Senate Bill 2571 prohibits the sale and distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. Despite opposition from retail and health industry representatives, Hawaii lawmakers approved the bill in May.
The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
“By signing this measure today, we will become the first in the world to enact this type of strong legislation to actively protect our marine ecosystem from toxic chemicals,” said Ige. “This is just one small step for protecting and restoring the resiliency of Hawaii’s reefs.”
THE REEF-RIGHT STUFF
These sunscreens are free of the chemicals oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) and/or octinoxate, which will be banned from in-state sales as of Jan. 1, 2021. Most claim water-resistance for 80 minutes.
Active ingredient(s) are noted in parentheses:
>> Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+ (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide); bluelizard.net
>> California Kids #Supersensitive Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+ Sunscreen and California Baby Calendula Sunscreen, SPF 30+ (titanium dioxide); californiababy.com
>> Goddess Garden Organics Everyday Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide); goddessgarden.com
>> Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 50 (zinc oxide); neutrogena.com
>> Raw Elements Face + Body Broad Spectrum, SPF 30 (zinc oxide); rawelementsusa.com
These products contain avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene, which have low or moderate toxicity concerns. Another low-toxicity chemical, Mexoryl SX, is used in European sunscreens but is pending FDA approval for use in the U.S.
>> Walgreens Sunscreen Moisturizing Lotion SPF 50; walgreens.com
>> Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50; coppertone.com (Note: The spray version contains oxybenzone.)
>> Read labels, as mainstream brands sell other sunscreens with oxybenzone and/or octinoxate.
>> Spray sunscreens are not recommended by the Environmental Working Group, due to a risk of inhalation and difficulty ensuring an adequately thick and even layer on skin.
The signing was met with applause from supporters who gathered to witness it, including representatives of the Surfrider Foundation, Friends of Hanauma Bay and The Kohala Center of Hawaii island.
“It’s thrilling,” said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay. “We’re making history in the U.S. We’re making history all over the world. And just watch. More states and more countries are going to start doing the same thing that Hawaii did. We are going to lead the way.”
Bishop would like more education about harmful sunscreen chemicals to be available at Hanauma Bay, and to see it included in the video visitors are required to watch before entering the preserve.
The bill also was supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Garden Club of Honolulu and the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia.
Craig Downs, executive director of Haereticus, has been the author of studies demonstrating that oxybenzone can make corals more susceptible to bleaching and serve as an endocrine disruptor, feminizing male fish.
Emily Jeffers, staff attorney for the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said Hawaii showed “courageous leadership” with its new law.
“The federal government should follow Hawaii’s lead by banning the use of oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens,” she said. “The personal care industry should support our petition to create uniform national standards for selling sunscreen that doesn’t kill coral.”
The bill met with opposition from the Hawaii Medical Association (HMA), Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition, ABC Stores, Hawaii Food Industry Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii and Personal Care Products Council, among others, as well as Bayer, which manufactures Coppertone sunscreens.
The HMA and Skin Cancer Coalition said there was a lack of peer-reviewed evidence showing the chemicals cause coral bleaching, and overwhelming evidence showing that not wearing sunscreen increases cancer rates. They also questioned the accuracy of the results, saying the studies were conducted in a laboratory rather than actual, natural settings.
Bayer cited limited active ingredients available in the United States and approved by the Food and Drug Administration with the proven effectiveness of oxybenzone for sunscreens over SPF 50.
For supporters at the Capitol, however, the bill was a step in the right direction.
Iris Kahaulelio, a teacher at Kahuku High School, was there with her twin daughters, Nohea and Kahea, both seniors at Pitzer College in California, and 12-year-old son, Kaua, in support of the legislation. The family has switched to mineral-based sunscreens.
“I think it’s very good for Hawaii to be the very first in the nation,” said Nohea Kahaulelio, an environmental analysis major. “Also, our reefs have been damaged over the years.”
She said protecting the coral reefs is ultimately good for visitors who come here to experience Hawaii’s natural beauty.
Bob Richmond, director of the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Lab, was pleased to see the bill become law.
“It’s really nice to see science used in the development of policy,” he said. “I feel very comfortable that this is a good bill, and it’s also setting the stage for future efforts of bringing science into the realm of policy, and that’s something that’s really critical.”