Hawaii legislators Thursday announced the introduction of bills that restrict the sale of sunscreens with anything other than those deemed safe for coral reefs as well as human health in the state.
The companion bills — Senate Bill 2278 and House Bill 2248 — propose sweeping legislation that would allow only sunscreen products with ingredients that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally recognizes as safe and effective, to be sold or distributed in Hawaii, starting Jan. 1, 2023.
Those two ingredients — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — are found in mineral-based sunscreens.
They build upon an earlier bill the state Legislature passed in 2018, banning the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, deemed harmful to Hawaii’s coral reefs. Upon Gov. David Ige’s signature, Hawaii became the first state to pass such a law, which goes into effect Jan. 1.
“We always knew there were other sunscreen chemicals threatening our coral reefs,” said state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei- Makakilo), who introduced the 2018 bill. “In 2018, when we got Act 104 passed, we only had sound science on oxybenzone and octinoxate. Now we have the FDA directive. We know it’s time to move forward with the other 14 chemicals.”
Those other 14 chemicals the bills cover include ones commonly listed in many commercial sunscreens sold on store shelves, including homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene and avobenzone.
Legislators said not only would these bills reduce the impact of sunscreen pollution to Hawaii’s coral reefs and marine animals, but address concerns about certain ingredients on human health.
After the 2018 ban was passed, other jurisdictions followed suit, said legislators, including Aruba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Palau and the city of Key West, Fla.
Gabbard said new developments include the FDA’s proposed rule last year reviewing sunscreen ingredients and how products are labeled in light of new scientific evidence.
The FDA has determined that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide belong to Category 1, or generally regarded as safe and effective.
But it has determined PABA and trolamine salicylate are Category 2, which are not generally safe and effective for use in sunscreens. The FDA placed 12 other ingredients in Category 3 because it has insufficient data to make a determination, and is seeking additional information from the industry.
Gabbard said Hawaii would once again be at the forefront of this sunscreen legislation, which is appropriate, given that the Aloha State is surrounded by ocean and visited by 10 million tourists per year.
Legislators said they were driven by scientific studies that now show some of these chemicals may have harmful impacts on human health and are linked to uterine diseases in women, breast cancer and Hirschsprung’s disease among infants.
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai) said he was astounded by the levels of oxybenzone in water samples found at Hanauma Bay.
Now human health is at stake, he said. Since only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered Category 1 by the FDA, then only these two sunscreen ingredients should be allowed in products sold in Hawaii, he said.
Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, said science on the toxicology of these UV chemicals over the last decade has led to this legislative moment.
“With over-tourism, you can have unacceptable levels of sunscreen pollution,” he wrote in an email. “This pollution impacts not just coral reefs, but can result in public health issues, such as birth defects (Hirschsprung’s disease), obesity, endocrine disruption, and even potentially affect cancer outcomes.”
Sunscreen pollution does not just affect coral reefs in oceans, he said, but swimming pools, streams and taro ponds.
SB 2278 was introduced by state Sens. Gabbard, Gil Riviere, Russell Ruderman, Sharon Moriwaki and Clarence Nishihara. HB 2248 was introduced by state Reps. Ward, Rida Cabanilla Arakawa, Chris Lee, Amy Perruso, David Tarnas, Chris Todd, Tom Brower, Lynn DeCoite and Dee Morikawa.
“The more of this we get out of our marine environment, the better it is for Hanauma Bay,” said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, which supports the bills.
The gift store at Hanauma Bay sells only reef-friendly sunscreens. Although the ban has not officially gone into effect yet, Bishop said there is a ripple effect: Awareness is growing among tour operators, and more visitors are asking about reef-friendly sunscreen.
That first ban was opposed by the Hawaii Medical Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, ABC Stores and the Personal Care Products Council. The Retail Merchants of Hawaii did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
A public hearing is scheduled before the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in Conference Room 224.
BAN OR NOT TO BAN
Safe and harmful ingredients found in some sunscreens:
CATEGORY 1 (REGARDED AS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE)
Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide
CATEGORY 2 (NOT SAFE)
PABA, trolamine salicylate
CATEGORY 3 (NOT ENOUGH DATA)
Cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate
O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, avobenzone